By Henry Stancu
Entrepreneurs John DeHart and Ken Sim put business on hold when the needs of their families – a dying father and an ailing wife pregnant with her first child – came first.
It was from their combined experience of providing comfort and searching for quality in-home care that the two friends found their calling and developed Nurse Next Door, now a Canada-wide franchise that helps seniors, people with post-operative needs, families coping with illness and even moms with too many bundles of joy to manage.
Nurse Next Door started in 2001 in Vancouver and began franchising across Canada in 2007. They now have 46 locations with more set to open before the end of the year.
With one out of four Canadians soon to be a senior, it’s no surprise franchised health care is already a booming industry.
The services provided by franchises in this sector focus mainly on non-medical care at home, such as meal preparation, grooming, bathing, transportation and companionship. Some offer registered nursing care, injury and wound care, and physical therapy.
There were 14 home-care service franchise members in the Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) in 2009. By 2010, there were 18, and this year there are 23 national brands. Half are in Ontario. There are more than 240 franchise locations across the country.
Figures show that, at a rate of 28 per cent, seniors home care and service was among the top five franchise listings in growth over the past year.
“One of the hallmarks of franchised businesses is that your experience as a customer is consistent regardless of where you are,” said Lorraine McLachlan, president and CEO of the CFA.
“Because it has a corporate overview, there are standards of consistency across the franchise demanded not only by the franchisee, but also by the franchisor to protect the brand.”
McLachlan said other franchise businesses benefitting from the aging demographic are landscapers and home cleaning firms.
Dehart and Sim developed Nurse Next Door to deliver the kind of service that was difficult to find 10 years ago.
“Neither of us knew that this little industry called home care even existed until we both had our own personal care-giving situations with family members,” DeHart said. “My first exposure came when hiring a caregiver for my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s. Where this business really made its mark on me was when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given two months to live.
“I, my mom, my sisters and my wife became his caregivers, and I can tell you we endured physical and emotional challenges. It made me realize how rewarding it was being his caregiver and his son,” said DeHart.
Sim’s needs arose when his wife had complications while pregnant and had to be confined to bed rest. The couple found some of the in-home helpers they hired through an agency were unqualified.
“You would expect a high level of standards, but we both found that didn’t seem to be the case back then. We both realized this is what we had to do,” said DeHart.
Five years after starting Nurse Next Door, DeHart and Sim added three franchise locations.
“Then we started to expand across Canada and today we’re approaching 50,” DeHart said.
Christy Babcock needed help when her 93-year-old mother could no longer look after herself due to dementia and needed more care than a seniors’ home could provide.
“So I hired Nurse Next Door to provide her with a companion, a woman who is an absolute angel. She needs someone to hold her hand, talk to her even though she doesn’t understand and take her outside in a wheelchair on nice sunny days. Someone to be with her for whatever she needs.
“There’s a certain dignity in that and my mom deserves it.”