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SANTA CRUZ – When Alanna Harvey worked as a caregiver, she noticed the financial and physical demands required for elders and people in wheelchairs to take a shower.
“I was going into people’s homes, and I was seeing that taking showers was a big part of hiring a caretaker,” Harvey said. “With a sponge bath, there’s no dignity that comes with a shower.”
Harvey decided to take action two years ago and started Forward Day LLC to create Shower Bay, portable showers for wheelchair users. Since then, the business has designed and built more than 30 showers that snap onto standard home faucets, providing a less-expensive alternative to completely remodeling a bathroom.
The unit, around $4,200, is still a chunk of change, but Harvey notes that it’s a fraction of the cost most people put into a wheelchair-friendly revisions. These generally include creating a lipless entrance so people can wheel in, as well as seating and a moveable shower head.
In addition, the unit weighs 118 pounds, with individual pieces weighing no more than 31 pounds each (a Shower Bay’s weight capacity is 300 pounds). Harvey said her company intentionally created a lightweight unit so it could be easily transported.
Santa Cruz resident Harry More, who bought the unit for his wife Ginger, said he used to fear dropping her whenever he lifted her into their shower with an 18-inch lip. More said the two, both 83, have found the product extremely useful.
“So far, every
time we’ve used it, it works well and it doesn’t take an engineer’s brain to run it,” said More, who has had the shower for five weeks. “It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth every dime we’ve spent.”
Harvey started the business with her brother Russell Simpkins. The two grew up in Santa Cruz, where they attended Soquel High School. While Harvey lives in San Jose now, Simpkins still lives in Santa Cruz and the two work out of a Santa Cruz-based office.
Simpkins said it was a natural progression to start a company with his sister. Their father owns System Studies Incorporated and their grandfather was an inventor. Simpkins said they frequently looked up to them throughout their childhood.
“Our grandpa would say, ‘Don’t look for a problem, look for a solution,’” Simpkins said. “Alanna went into these homes and saw there was a problem. Then from there, we came up with a plan. Our minds kind of work like that.”
The two drafted various concepts before contracting an engineer to finalize the designs. The showers are then built in Colorado, which Harvey said is part of the company’s mission.
“It’s a product that’s made in the USA and we’re very proud of that,” Harvey said. “It took us a long time to get here.”
Beyond family bonds or choosing not to outsource, though, the siblings said the best part about the company was seeing how Shower Bays have changed people’s lives. Simpkins said they’ve done a few trade shows for people with physical limitations, and he always enjoys seeing the families’ reactions when they come to the booth.
“They see the product and they literally light up,” Simpkins said. “It clicks with them. They say, ‘We don’t even need you to explain it.’”