Dawn Harsch, BScN, MBA, is the founder of ExquisiCare Senior Living, senior care residences that give families options instead of institutional-style models of care. ExquisiCare facilities are large homes built in thriving residential areas to facilitate complete community integration, making it easier for families to visit and interact and to provide a wonderful workplace for the nurses and staff in each home. Ten years have passed since Harsch first launched her innovative care homes, and now the next phase is to grow the concept outside of Edmonton.
For the first five years of operations, Harsch pondered on how to expand the business in the most sustainable way. “Do I own it all? Expand across Canada? Take on business partners? I landed on franchising because I want to support other nurses that do good work. I wanted them to own the ability to provide the care they wanted in their own communities.”
With the franchise model, Harsch plans to share her operation manual that has been proven to work so well in Edmonton, but allow the franchise operators to put their own flair and ideas into their locations.
“We will support those nurses,” she says. “Each location will be backed by my years of policies, startup manuals and procedures. We know we have a successful model and that there is a huge need for it in places like Ontario where they were hit so hard with COVID and where there are still extensive waiting lists for people to get into care.”
One of the many things that will drive the success of the franchise model as it moves forward is ExquisiCare’s philosophy of care and service that guides the company’s daily actions. This philosophy is summed up as their 3Es – ExquisiCare Everyday Excellence.
“Our 3Es define our company culture and sets us far above other long-term care operators,” says Harsch. “It determines how we interact with our customers – who are our residents, family members, team members, contractors – anyone that comes into contact with us. It also defines how we interact in the areas of care, hospitality and customer service.”
Harsch knows that handing over a how-to manual of building plans, regulations and permitting will make the franchises a success, but what will really drive the real and lasting change they are working to implement coast to coast is instilling their very unique corporate culture into each location. As she notes, “Culture is a little harder to communicate and put on paper. This is why we are so careful about creating and executing on our 3Es every day. Our philosophy truly stands the test of time. We believe the service should be there and in that regard, we lead by example.”
Harsch is determined to ensure it’s not just the seniors in her care that are happy. She is equally focused on her team; another aspect of service that will be important for each franchise location.
“We did an employee engagement survey after two years of COVID. It showed that our staff are still happy and still enjoy coming to work. They feel fairly compensated and enjoy close engagement with our seniors. They like that each resident is not just a person in a warehouse. We know them by name. We know their families. We offer the best possible care because we love each and every one of our residents.”
With COVID on the wane and the franchise process on the rise, Harsch has little time to reflect on the first decade, but when she does she remembers, “Lots of ups and downs, but more ups overall.”
“We are very proud of what we have been able to do. If anyone tells you going into business for yourself is easy and fun, they are lying. For a business like this to reach 10 years is actually rare but here we are, including taking the business through a global pandemic. We are excited because we knew, and now it has been proven (with the excellent outcomes for seniors and staff in our homes during the pandemic), that this is one of the best options for seniors. We are very excited for the next phase. My dream is to see an ExquisiCare home in every community that wants one, and many do want one.”
She recounts a heartwarming story of how brand awareness made a big difference between opening up the first and third homes.
“When I built my first home, nobody knew who we were. For the second home we had a few people show up at the hearing, but there were no problems. However, for the third home I got a call from the president of the community league to let me know how happy they were to have an ExquisiCare residence in their neighbourhood.
With their community members being in their 40s and 50s, they didn’t want their aging parents going into institutionalized care. They wanted their parents to have an option nearby. We were even offered a community garden plot!”
Harsch adds, “I am very excited, but I admit this is a little daunting. We want to affect change across the country and provide care for not only seniors in a wonderful environment, but also peace of mind for families and a place where people can come to work knowing they made a difference.”
Her work makes a difference in her own family too. Harsch’s daughter is following her mother’s footsteps and is currently a health care aide.
“I don’t do this on my own,” she concludes. “My husband Cory has always been incredibly supportive, as are my daughter and 14 year-old twins.”
It’s been a long road and there is an even longer one ahead, but Harsch and her team of determined nurses persist so seniors locally, and soon across Canada, will have more choices when it comes to long-term care. Visit www.exquisicare.com to learn more.
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