Dawn Harsch

Top 40 Under 40 2011

Photography 3Ten/Aaron Pedersen

Age:  37

Job Title: Owner, ExquisiCare Inc.

Why She’s Top 40:   She breaks from traditional practices, and prefers serving people on the front lines rather than through the bureaucracy.

Key To Success: “I always do the right thing, even if it means that I don’t necessarily follow the rules.”

Two years ago, Dawn Harsch was a director with Capital Health, a key figure in developing a series of successful initiatives. She helped coordinate the retrofitting of a large passenger bus into a dialysis bus, which travelled to rural areas bringing treatment to patients. She also oversaw the construction or renovation of nine new dialysis units in central and northern Alberta.

When Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories wanted new ways to deliver dialysis services, Harsch was consulted. She recommended that they follow the Alberta model of bringing treatment to the rural regions rather than forcing patients to travel to cities.

It’s not a surprise that the woman, who joined Capital Health in 2001 as a patient care manager, was promoted to a director’s position in 2004.

But, despite her rapid rise, she was unsatisfied, concerned that the health-care system was hampered by paperwork, and that she’d become a part of the bureaucracy. In 2009, she left the position.

As a registered nurse with a master’s in business administration, she thought she could provide a more innovative model of quality health care to patients outside the system. “I believe health care is a business, but it’s a poorly run business,” says Harsch.

She launched ExquisiCare to transform seniors housing, with the first 10-bedroom, 10-bathroom home to open this March. Harsch says that it’s normal to see one overworked nurse look after 100 seniors at a time in a standard home. In her model, a full-time nurse along with health-care aides will look after the tenants. And while operations will be more expensive up front, she believes the savings realized in reduced trips to the hospital will make up for it.

“The way we [society] care for seniors is not good enough,” says Harsch. “These are people who have fought in wars, have started families, have been community leaders. And, in the end, they get a four-by-eight room in a run-down home?”

Harsch says that seniors deserve “purposeful” living that will encourage them to continue pursuing their passions, rather than being herded to bingo and the mall. They’ll be able to participate in the preparation of meals, instead of eating off a static menu. “We need to address the loneliness, helplessness and boredom we see in long-term care.”

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