How one local nurse-turned-entrepreneur is changing patient’s lives
By Karen Kornelsen
Kootenay Association for Science & Technology
When you or someone you love gets sick, it can feel like your world just got flipped upside down. Finding or accepting a diagnosis can be draining and emotionally difficult, and it can be extremely overwhelming navigating the healthcare system. Many patients and their families fall through the cracks, experience a frustrating lack of communication from their medical professionals or do not get proper access to valuable resources.
Hospital capacity in Canada is at 125 percent, meaning there are five beds for every four patients. Not to mention, people only retain 17 percent of what they hear in a doctor’s appointment, and that’s if they’re healthy. That number drops to three percent if they are sick or are receiving a difficult diagnosis.
This is why Paige Lennox, a nurse-turned-entrepreneur, launched a one-of-a-kind healthcare advocacy business just over a year ago. Based in Nelson, B.C., and offering services across Canada, Canadian Healthcare Advocates Inc. (CHAI) is on a mission to make a difference in people’s lives.
CHAI helps people navigate the healthcare system in a variety of ways including:
- attending doctor’s appointments (in-person or on speakerphone)
- lessening wait times
- facilitating communications with medical professionals
- deciphering medical jargon and complex results
- discharge planning
- disability paperwork
- end-of-life planning
- providing much-needed emotional support
Lennox and her team help people with complex health issues, people finding it challenging to get the care or resources they need and children of aging parents who are at a distance.
“I have always been passionate about advocating for my patients, people who cannot speak for themselves or don’t know what questions to ask or to
whom,” said Lennox. “I have been lucky enough to combine this passion with my past experience as a critical nurse and turn it into a career and a niche that is helping Canadians get the health care they need.”
After working as a critical care nurse for over 25 years in hospital emergency rooms, trauma ICUs and flying with air ambulances, Lennox has seen it all. After witnessing death, trauma and patients falling through the cracks, Lennox felt drawn to advocating for people who couldn’t speak up for themselves.
Her own mother was sadly diagnosed with terminal cancer. Even with her extensive knowledge and experience, it was difficult navigating the system and it got Lennox wondering how other people do it without support. A conversation at a cafe with some entrepreneur friends birthed the idea for CHAI and Lennox quickly got to work rolling out her business plan, setting up accounting, HR, marketing, finding a lawyer and figuring out the systems she needed to put in place. Basically, she had to build a business from scratch without any prior business experience. And she did it.
“It has been amazing talking to people about my venture right from the start and witnessing their enthusiasm and receiving their support,” she said. “I have been blown away by how well we have been received by the medical community right across Canada and the doctors are always appreciative of our presence in their patient’s appointments.”
Healthcare advocacy is already mainstream in the United States, but Canada is further behind. While there are healthcare advocates operating here, CHAI is the first company of its kind to have a national network of advocates. They are also unique in that they offer virtual services to people in rural settings or in places that don’t yet have an established advocate.
With value placed on the importance of collaboration and teamwork, CHAI’s advocates each bring their own unique experience, knowledge, and perspective of the inner workings of the healthcare system to the table. They meet as a team virtually once a week to offer each other support, collaborate on complicated issues a client may be experiencing and share knowledge.
Currently, they have nine advocates in various locations in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario and this number continues to grow.
In June of 2019, after experiencing organic growth in her business and achieving success with various clients, Lennox decided she needed to increase her business knowledge in order to take CHAI to the next level. She discovered KAST’s Venture Acceleration Program (VAP), applied and was paired with an Executive-in-Residence (EIR) who truly resonates with her business values is helping Lennox reach as many patients as possible.
“This program has truly pushed me out of my comfort zone and I feel really lucky to be a part of it,” said Lennox. “It’s absolutely amazing having a whole team of support for your business.”
VAP helps early-stage entrepreneurs grow their companies. Led by experienced mentors, this ongoing 6-12 month program offers a disciplined approach to growing and taking businesses to market.
Participating entrepreneurs like Lennox have access to one-to-one coaching with an experienced EIR who takes a structured approach to help entrepreneurs define their business model, discover product and market fit, and grow their business. VAP also connects people with like-minded entrepreneurs and valuable peer support.
“I meet with my EIR, Beth Gallup, once a week and I can take anything to her from marketing and HR questions to cash flow and projections and she provides such valuable feedback and advice. It’s amazing, “ said Lennox.
VAP clients also take part in quarterly reviews where they review and set quarterly goals and practice giving their business pitch in front of EIR’s and VAP peers to receive valuable feedback. The reviews are a tool for accountability and give entrepreneurs an opportunity to celebrate success and reflect on failures.
“What I really like are the quarterly reviews,” said Lennox. “I didn’t like them at first because you feel extremely vulnerable but I realized it’s so worth it letting yourself be vulnerable. It has totally pushed me and I’ve learned so much. These reviews give you such great insight into your business and the feedback you get from the panel of experienced entrepreneurs is amazing.”
Lennox is also in the planning stage of their web-based app which will roll out their services on a larger scale and make it easier for people to make a connection with a health advocate. She says combining health and technology is the future and will help our healthcare system handle the aging baby boomer population.
KAST’s Director of Operations and Programs, Kailyn Skuban, sees CHAI as a unique, technology-enabled company built right here in the Kootenays that is empowering patients, making health care less fragmented and more efficient.
“Paige is an ideal VAP client, she is extremely motivated, highly coachable and has a clear vision of the problem she is trying to address,” said Skuban. “The Venture Acceleration Program is designed to give entrepreneurs just like her all of the elements that are needed for rapid acceleration and to find product and market fit. CHAI is literally changing people’s lives, one advocate at a time. I’m excited to watch Paige grow the company and expand her advocacy network across Canada.”
Lennox also has big plans for the future. While the United States has a governing body for advocates, Canada does not. Lennox is in the process of co-founding the first association in Canada for health care advocacy that will provide credentialing and standards for the industry.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is being a part of something that will help our health care system,” said Lennox. “Our system is so overstretched and people are feeling overwhelmed and confused – which is why I feel called to make a real difference in the lives of Canadians.”
Learn more about CHAI services during today’s pandemic here.
The Venture Acceleration Program is an initiative of Innovate BC. The program in the Kootenay region is also generously supported by NRC-IRAP. We are here to help you take your idea further and give you the mentorship, peer-to-peer engagement and resources you need as an early-stage entrepreneur.