Kris Stewart (Cariboo College ’88) wasn’t expected to go far in life — she was the first in her family to graduate high school and that’s where she assumed her education would end.
“I grew up in a ranching community, and what the young ladies did was get married out of high school, if indeed they finished it. And that’s where they stayed for the next 60 years, living on the farm, being a farm wife,” says Stewart. “I saw that happening and thought, that’s not the life I want for myself.”
Following high school, Stewart held firm in her belief that higher education was meant for those not willing to work hard enough to make it in the real world. Proving her stance, Stewart succeeded in numerous jobs. Then, in the 1980s, a recession hit. Interest rates skyrocketed and job opportunities dwindled. It was time to give education another chance.
“It was terrible. Jobs were difficult to keep, and here I was, an unskilled worker. So, I swallowed my pride and went to see the academic advisor,” she says.
Together, they discussed her options at Cariboo College and decided registered nursing was the best choice. Before she could start, though, she had to complete more than a year of prerequisites. Stewart worked hard and lived frugally. Each year, she received letters of commendation from her instructors, showing Stewart she was on the right course. That course led her right out of Kamloops.
“I knew that sticking around Kamloops wasn’t for me any more than sticking around the farm,” she says.
Education became her ticket out and she hasn’t stopped learning since, earning her Bachelor of Science, Master of Health Care Management and a Master of Business Administration while living and working in diverse locales from North Carolina to the Arctic Circle. Stewart is now pursuing a doctorate in leadership and organizational psychology while running one of Canada’s top companies, Advanced Home Care Solutions, Inc., which is based in Kelowna but operates in multiple locations and is quickly expanding.
Providing health-care staff where needed
In 2011, when she started the company, Stewart’s initial focus was on providing home health-care staff, but when she discovered many of BC’s extended-care homes were significantly short staffed, she took steps to send nursing personnel to hospitals and long-term care sites as well. By spring 2020, Stewart had an effective business model in place, and she hired her first administrative support person. Over the next couple years, she added 13 more administrative staff to the team. Today, they place about 120 nurses in acute and residential care facilities across much of Canada and are pursuing international expansion.
In September, Advanced Home Care Solutions was ranked 12th in the Globe and Mail’s annual ranking of top growing companies.
“Our higher purpose is to bring nursing services to those who have insufficient amounts of it. And we’re all passionate about that,” says Stewart, crediting the company’s growth to having a skilled, passionate team.
Consisting of experienced clinicians, the administrative team ensures the company’s nurses feel safe and supported no matter where they are practicing. In an industry that has high burnout, Stewart’s company places a high priority on psychological wellness and taking care of the nurses they place. They pay them well and allow them to work at sites of their preference — an effective recruitment strategy. They also put patient safety at the top of their priorities.
Continuing to expand
“Because I’m a nurse, I use what’s in the best interests of patient safety,” says Stewart. “Those we serve most humbly are our patients and what’s best for the patients is to have the same set of nursing eyes on them for the longest period of time.”
To ensure this continuity, the company places nurses at facilities for three months minimum, often extending placements for six months and beyond.
With Advanced Home Care’s speedy growth in Canada, Stewart plans to expand to the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries. After more than 40 years in the health-care industry, she’s as committed as ever to making a difference.
“I haven’t had a holiday in seven years, but I don’t need a holiday. I love what I do,” she says.