Creating a Culture for Care Giving

Oh, the stories they tell, those folks from Nurse Next Door. A home care services company based in Vancouver with about 50 locations across North America, its care givers know there is more to looking after a senior citizen than making sure she has her meds squared away.

“This is our difference,” franchise partner Carol Lange tells me in our recent interview. “We ask, ‘What did you used to like to do before you got sick? How can we get you back to that?’ They don’t really know stuff that is missing from their life until it’s added back in.”

What a tuned-in observation. So often when adult children look in on family members, they unwittingly begin to see the senior citizen as simply their medical issues. That’s why Nurse Next Door prides itself on a culture that is fertile ground for delicious stories like getting someone on the putting green for half an hour or in a pool for a swim. There’s functioning and then there’s living.

This is what sprouts, I suppose, when you begin a company from a place of nurturing. Co-founders John DeHart and Ken Sim learned firsthand what standout care meant to loved ones and it only reinforced what had already been their clear mission.

“Just because someone is a nurse or care giver doesn’t mean they should be,” DeHart says in our recent interview. “We hire the smile.”

Of course those are qualified “smiles.” Experience is essential. But all else being equal, he is inclined to give the nod to spirit and energy. His early model for this was his mother – a nurse – who took exceptional care of him growing up. Then, in his late 20s and about a year into starting this company, DeHart found out his father had been given two months to live; he helped care for him 24/7 until he died.

“That’s when the business truly became a passion for me,” DeHart says. “We help our clients, our seniors, but we help the families more. It kind of rocks your world. If you can start to engage the right kind of conversation among family members, it makes all the difference. It’s so gratifying to have those conversations. I had the most riveting and fascinating conversations with my dad in those final days.”

In those early days of the company over a decade ago, Sim also had an experience with care giving when his pregnant wife needed a hand. While there was a good measure of business aptitude already in place, the empathy component brought it, and them, to another level.

“I feel fortunate to have been touched by death at an early age,” DeHart says. “We’re all going to experience it.”

Lange, the aforementioned franchise partner, had an experience with it shortly after she got on board at Nurse Next Door. She had to delay participating in a one-week franchise training when her father died. He had been sick on and off, had had a couple of strokes, but Lange had a new baby and, a typical “kid,” she thought her parent was invincible. But he came for Christmas and the night after he had a heart attack.

After talking to her stepmother the night he passed away – Jan. 6 – Lange realized just how much his quality of life and subsequent will to live had been on shaky ground.

“I was dumbfounded,” Lange says. “As I [eventually] went through franchise partner training I kept thinking, had I known how he was feeling I could have made a difference in the final years of his life, if I had known to ask the right questions. At the end of that training I had so many emotions.”

All of this came after already making a life-changing decision while she was on maternity leave. She had done the Fortune 500 senior marketing manager thing and was pondering her next move. The question before a woman at a professional crossroads: Take six figures with an established corporation or build something from scratch?

“I was toying with this idea,” Lange told me. “Thinking it seems to work with the values I hold and what I want to do. It felt like the right fit for me and what I’m about.”

The idea, the fit, was Nurse Next Door. Drawn to the people and the energy, Lange became a franchise partner in 2008 and now she is bursting with enthusiasm and – yes -- with stories that uplift about care givers and clients. She proudly relays how a care giver unearthed what would make one client really happy – Christmas decorations – and proceeded to make that happen. Or finding out a person, sitting with shades drawn, is not taking her medication properly, making that simple adjustment and seeing her feel good enough to teach her care giver how to make macaroni casserole.

Living instead of just functioning.

“It’s why our franchise partners get into this business,” DeHart says.

DeHart, now age 39, graduated from Cornell (finance/business major) and got into high tech companies for a while.

“I loved it from an intellectual perspective,” he says. “And it was fun, fast. But I got up one day and thought, this isn’t me.”

He took a couple of years off, met his now wife in Vancouver, met his future business partner Sim, dealt with his grandmother’s care for Alzheimer’s, and in the process of it all was exposed to health care in the United States and Canada.

“I love caring for people,” DeHart says. “I wanted to put caring back into it. There were no standards. It was scary. I realized this is what I have to do. It was a 100-plus year old industry and it was still acting like it’s 100 years old.”

Meanwhile, his friends were working on Wall Street and once he started his business weren’t shy about asking – what are you doing?

“I said, ‘Driving a pink car and care giving,’” DeHart says with a laugh.

Lange recalls meeting DeHart and Sim for a “grueling” interview process, wondering if they were for real and then being delighted at their authenticity. She noted that when she inquired about a franchise at a competing company they had sent her an actual physical folder, but Nurse Next Door sent its package electronically; it impressed her that she had it instantly because it spoke of the vibrancy of the culture there.

“I was lucky enough to get awarded a franchise,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was getting into. The first two years it was really heavy lifting. Now I have flexibility with my now 5-year-old.”

In fact, she and her husband co-purchased another franchise when it came up for sale.

“I just passed my third-year anniversary from corporate to entrepreneur,” Lange says. “Now I’m actually feeling like me.”

Her story is like DeHart’s story. Interest piqued by purpose, then solidified by passion born of a personal experience. From their stories, others flow … and flow some more.

Lange explains that in interviews she will ask care giver candidates to tell her about a client they built a relationship with in their career.

“Sometimes they tear up,” she says. “They start to apologize, but I tell them, ‘You’re fine. You have heart. That’s our culture.’”

Go ahead. Tell the story. You’ll fit right in.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to