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Meet Karen Van Dyke of Senior Care By Design

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Van Dyke.

Karen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today. You can include as little or as much detail as you’d like.
Over a period of less than eight years, I was called to care for my aunt, sister, and brother. It was trial by fire. As someone who has lived an independent life, with a full and thriving corporate career, travel, and always on the go, being face deep into caring for multiple people in the throes of severe life illness, at the end of their life, was a journey I did not sign up for willingly – and boy, was I in for an education.

For those who have been foisted into this caregiving journey, navigating the transition from hospital to assisted living/skilled living community is not only an overwhelming journey but there’s virtually none of the kind of support one really needs. Resources are available but the access is very splintered stirring up overwhelm during an already chaotic time.

The worst of it was when I was by my sister’s bedside in the hospital and a nurse handed me a two-page list of skilled nursing and assisted living communities because, she explained, the hospital could simply no longer care for her.

With all of the grief and confusion around what her body was going through, and what she needed, I was now also responsible for moving her out of the hospital and into a skilled nursing facility.

All the while I was shocked by the lack of help that my family received during this most chaotic and emotional time.

I learned along the way that this was not an unusual practice.

Until we could equip her home for her last days, I was forced to immediately find a place for my sister to move to, with quality care, all during a blizzard.

That period was traumatizing to all of us. I vowed then that I would do something about it and not let another family have to go through what mine did and within six months, I left my corporate career immediately began my professional education, and within the year I launched Senior Care by Design.

Six years later, I’ve not only developed my business and trusted partners in every avenue of care that are the best this county has to offer, but have also, in the process, launched three community-led groups that are all-inclusive and provide support beyond what I could ever do as one person.

The first community is San Diego’s chapter of the Daughterhood Circle (part of – it supports individuals who are going through the caregiving experience.

The second is a group for industry people who want to improve and better the way the business of caregiving is done. We are all Certified Senior Advisors (CSA), each is an expert that complements the work I do. This provides us each with reliable, trusted resources in areas like legal or financial advice, home care services or moving assist just to name a few.

The third is Death Cafe, a worldwide movement giving people the open and hosted space to discuss death in healthy and safe ways. and

Has it been a smooth road?
Not at all – it was tough, but I’ve always done things differently. Starting from scratch in a new industry was difficult, but I see, now, that it took an outsider’s perspective to be willing to do things radically differently – to put restoring family relationships as a top priority second only to safety – in order to upend a very medical-centric field.

This sensitive, demanding work, coupled with building a business from scratch takes perseverance and courage in spades.

Along with people who believe in you (I found many at a local female-focused co-working space called Hera Hub), you’ll find the motivation to keep moving forward. And those who don’t believe, you spurred me on even more!

Truly, the biggest struggle was just navigating the silo’d process of placement and learning how to create real relationships with the often business-first assisted living and memory care communities.

So, let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Senior Care by Design story. Tell us more about the business.
When families call with nowhere to turn, facing what feels like a chaotic juncture that’s so filled with fear and uncertainty, I have the honor of becoming a trusted partner to help them restore balance and to continue to live. How cool is that?

My focus is on the well-being of the family and we do that in three ways: finding living solutions, identifying transition resources, and relationship recovery.

My favorite of the three is relationship recovery and this is where the smiles and peace returns for hopefully everyone in the family. I lead each decision with compassion as I help families to get through the inherent guilt that is in the journey.

Every step of the way I walk with the families from the initial conversation to the selection process, background research to the follow up months later to see how everyone is doing.

Together we set out initially visiting communities that are chosen with intention and purpose – there’s a whole process to finding the perfect placement and ultimately a new home for a loved one.

Through my experience with the facilities, I help families think through about things they may have otherwise overlooked giving them several perspectives from which to analyze their choices. My background in corporate banking comes in as we figure out what is reasonable and affordable, as well as ensuring the quality of life is as high, if not higher, than it was at home.

It’s a journey we go on and complete together, the family and I. Communities tell me all the time “You are the kind of placement agent that we want and like to work with.”

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I’m actually on the forefront of the changes in my industry – six months ago we launched the National Placement and Referral Alliance,, a nationwide alliance of professional referral and placement organizations working as one to encourage and protect our clients and our industry. Just last month colleagues worked to submit Assembly Bill #2744 to the California Legislature. This bill, if passed, will tighten up the requirements for a placement agency and create a clearer understanding of the relationship between the client, agency and community that they may move to. There are more and more families who need the guidance of someone like myself, often times people don’t even know this service is available to them and I’m excited to help continue to bolster the credibility and proactive work of the leaders in the placement world.


  • For those who have not already started looking or even if you’ve done some exploring, my services are almost always covered by our referral partners (the assisted living and care organizations).
  • I can be hired hourly if you’ve already started the process and want someone to help provide guidance or help you with a second (or third) opinion.

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