Founder of Plan A Healthcare/Staff Stat
I started my career as an entrepreneur after I had many careers. When I was in high school, in the 1980’s, my guidance counsellor had suggested that I become a dental assistant or a teacher or a nurse, the typical ‘girl’ jobs that were presented to us back then. Self-employment wasn’t even on the map.
I started my career as a dental assistant with the idea I would become a dental hygienist. I lasted in my first career for a few months, it just wasn’t for me. I became a social worker, spending 7 years in the field and still was unsatisfied. I then decided to become a registered nurse, and as the other careers I took on, I was still feeling like I was lacking in my career and I could do more. I went into teaching at the college level which I really enjoyed, but more importantly for me, teaching a healthcare program gave me the idea of becoming self employed. The fact was, I wasn’t a great employee. I had ideas, I wanted to champion positive changes and I wasn’t very good at following the rules; I wanted to make the rules. That’s when I started to think about self-employment.
Plan A became an idea when I was teaching. I wanted my agency to be different, to focus monomaniacally on the long-term care sector, the sector that I could foresee needing our services the most.
Plan A was launched almost 10 years ago. I was very fortunate to receive help through a government program called OSEB – and it was delivered through Learning Initiative here in Sudbury. Being part of that program contributed to my success out of the gate and was a tremendous support to help me focus on building my business.
Plan A started off as a local healthcare staffing agency. I had never been exposed to agencies until I was taking my nursing student placements in hospitals in Toronto. I remember ‘the agency’ not being so highly regarded in my nursing program but being in Sudbury, without an agency, I knew we needed to look at it in a fresh light. Once I established myself, Plan A took off immediately and I spent my days calling down a list for staff. The calls started at 4 am and stopped around midnight. My first hire, Mel Morin, who is now the president/CEO of StaffStat, and I, were both spending hours and hours every day calling and working manually with a binder. After a about a year or so, we both realized there must be a better way to do this.
We started by looking for a shift-filling app. We were fortunate to have some help with market research from our local regional innovation centre, NORCAT. When we didn’t find what we were looking for, we built it, and that is our software company and application now known as StaffStat
Once we started using in LTC homes to access our external staffing pool, our homes started expressing interest in using it themselves for their staff. We realized that we were at a huge advantage because our homes were calling down the list as often as we were. That’s when we turned StaffStat into its own company and today we have almost 18,000 users on the system today. We also work with all of the major players in our sector.
Together, Plan A and Staff Stat make up the most effective and efficient staffing strategy for long term care across the country. Our technology allows LTC homes to connect with all of their staff at once using multiple notification options so schedules are optimized and shortages are recognized days before the actual shift is needed. This then allows ample time for open shifts to be picked up externally. Our technology has helped improve patient-to-staff ratios and workplace settings. LTC homes see reduced grievances, decreased overtime, less injuries, fewer errors, better retention, and a more jovial workplace by implementing our LTC Staffing Strategy.
In my office I have 24 full-time staff and we have 27 locations across Canada. Some locations have one or up to 9 employees, and we employing almost 1,300 healthcare professionals on our amazing pool. In total across the board, with full-time, part-time, and casual we have about 1,500 people working in our mission. We are partnered with 267 Long Term Care homes and Retirement homes across Canada. Relationships are huge for us and as we continue to grow we know we want to only work with partners that share our values.
Initially scaling was a challenge and we did so with a license model across Northern Ontario. We realized pretty quickly that you can’t control your brand with a licence so we now have a robust franchise agreement and model that ensures a win-win opportunity for all involved. The initial franchise is affordable for someone who wants to get into this business. I have to say, it is a lot of hard work – grunt work – that you absolutely have to do in order to be successful and build your team. It’s a FEW years of the hardest work you will ever do but if you aren’t afraid to put in the work the success that comes with it is yours to enjoy. Businesses take years to get established and Plan A is no different. If you don’t have the drive or patience or time to put into this model, I wouldn’t suggest trying it. We make it look easier than it is.
A pivotal moment for my business was being introduced to Peter Dal Bianco, the NOA Consultant in Sudbury. Peter is a true definition of a mentor. I was pretty green at the beginning and my business took off fast. He put me in touch with the best of the best to help me get my business on track with such rapid growth. He understood franchise models, having been in the franchise business for years. He had the faith and believed in me. Having a mentor that believes in everything you do, gave me that trust and openness to talk about my goals and my fears. I am truly indebted to Peter.
The 3 ingredients to my success is are:
Recognize your strengths. You can’t be the expert at absolutely everything. Knowing my strengths out of the gate and sourcing out where I was weak was key. I know what I’m good at – innovating, networking, relationship building, marketing, and growth. I get bored quickly with operations. I can’t sit down and write all the policies, procedures and financials. I am an orange type personality.
If you don’t ask the answer is always no. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need for your business.
You have to be PASSIONATE. If you are trying to get into something for just the money, it is never going to work.
COVID-19 has helped my businesses to be smarter, scalable and use our technology to bring us closer as a team. It has forced us to lean in to our challenges and come out with better, tangible solutions. It has increased the quality and quantity of work that my team produces and they have adapted to working from home. We’ve had no choice but to pivot.
Our sector is in the centre of this pandemic. Everyone is terrified, they have never experienced this before. We are honored to be beside them during this unpredictable time. We are learning just how important it is to have a staffing strategy for our LTC homes. Our partners are valuing our relationships more and we are working together on solutions to get through this.
My philosophy on marketing is if you’re innovating you need to be marketing, or how else will anybody know about the amazing things you are doing? When times are slow, you don’t cheap out on marketing, you need to boost your marketing.
Marketing is one of my favourite parts of running a business. I love coming up with creative ideas to get our vision and mission out there, and then discussing it with our marketing manager. Megan has helped us to build a strong and consistent brand. She came to us as a student from Cambrian College and has been with us ever since. So many of the marketing elements are done inhouse, but I also source out locally and on a larger scale in Toronto when I need to. Your marketing message has to be very consistent with a strong brand.
I try to balance work with my family by having more quality time. My daughter is now 12, her pre-school years were a bit of a blur to me when I started my business. We try to put away our cell phones to spend quality time together with lots of time at the rink! Some days I will be working say 8 to 3, and then will take time with my family. I do put self-care as a priority. I value my sleep, fresh air and healthy choices so I have the energy to work with my team and be a role model for them. I preach this to my staff, if they have to work overtime, I let them go home earlier the next day. You have to find that balance.
We are heading into our 10th year at Plan A and 5th year at StaffStat. My team is actively opening more Plan A’s across the country. We are presently building an AI component into StaffStat which will help our partners to fill more shifts internally and have to rely on their external staffing partner less. StaffStat is sector agnostic, so maybe we will look at introducing ourselves to other sectors. If we are putting all of this time and money into calling down the list in health care, who else needs to get off the phone?
Sheri Tomchick is one of Northern Ontario’s leading authorities on methodologies for sustaining our health care system while dealing with an aging population. Combining a mixture of professional experience, strong leadership skills and sound knowledge of problem solving, Sheri works with Long Term Care homes to bring elements of forward thinking, team building and an effective approach to getting things done. Sheri is the founder and visionary of both Plan A Health Care Staffing Solutions, Inc., the largest health care staffing agency in Northern Ontario, and StaffStat, Inc., a new and innovative software solution making waves across Ontario. Sheri was the 2014 winner of the Bell Business Excellence award for Entrepreneur of the Year. She won the People’s Choice award at the NORCAT Innovation Mill’s inaugural Pitch event, where she pitched her software, StaffStat. Sheri was also acknowledged as the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year at the Influential Women of Northern Ontario Awards. www.planahealthcarestaffing.ca