What Senior Living Providers Should Look for in Wi-Fi Solutions

The 21st Century Senior Living Community is a series brought to you by CDW, a provider of technology solutions and services focused exclusively on serving the healthcare marketplace. The series takes a clear-eyed look at how leading providers and their partners are creating the next generation of senior living communities by raising the bar on services, design, and technology.

No guts, no glory—it’s true in combat, and it’s true in senior living.

When it comes to technology, that is.

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Implementing the right “guts” for robust senior living technology—or the right technology infrastructure—can be expensive, but it’s worth it, Peter Kress, vice president of technology and chief information officer at Acts Retirement-Life Communities, tells Senior Housing News. The West Point, Pennsylvania-based senior living provider began deploying Wi-Fi in its communities’ common spaces 17 years ago, in 2000; now, all 21 of Acts’ counting care retirement community (CCRC) campuses have Wi-Fi building-wide.

Many senior living providers understand that they should, like Acts, implement robust Wi-Fi, but they must go about doing so wisely.

“Frankly, the decision is an easy decision—the answer is yes, always,” Kress says. “The challenge is, then, how do you deploy and manage that, and do that within budget?”

Infrastructure’s real cost

For some senior living providers, embracing technology means going “all-in.” Nashville-based Vitality Senior Living, for instance, doesn’t take the idea of technology in senior living lightly.

“That’s kind of one of the cornerstones to our approach to tech: free and available Wi-Fi in every corner of our building,” Vitality Senior Living Chief Information Officer David McBride tells SHN.

So far, Vitality has acquired two existing senior living communities in Texas, and it has five additional communities under development. In some cases, the buildings the company acquires must be brought up-to-speed with respect to technology.

“We come into buildings and find that they haven’t invested [in technology], or it’s been run ad hoc over the years,” McBride says.

That won’t cut it anymore.

“We really believe that to be successful you need to have an enterprise solution—wired and wireless,” McBride says. Vitality has a preferred Internet strategy, he adds.

“We’re looking for the ability to do multiple networks with a single wireless access point—a guest network, a staff network, a resident network,” McBride explains. That way, if one access point were to unexpectedly go off-line, the other access points would be able to “talk” to each other and fill in the gap.

Vitality has also embraced the use of high bandwidth, as the provider also needs make sure it can also always provide mission-critical care, even while certain residents stream “a lot of” Netflix and Hulu.

“We make sure that life safety is taken care of first,” McBride says.

On average, Vitality invests between $90,000 and $150,000 to put a strong, “future ready” infrastructure in place in an existing community, McBride estimates. This can take between two and four weeks to implement, depending on the building—a time during which current Vitality residents and employees are impacted.

“It’s expensive, and disruptive, to both the residents and the staff,” McBride says.

Still, the move is justified by Vitality, which looks at Wi-Fi and technology infrastructure as if it were a utility, like electricity, heat or water, McBride adds.

“It’s a difficult decision, but it’s a short-term pain versus a long-term gain,” McBride says.

At Acts, meanwhile, it can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 per 300-unit CCRC to implement a Wi-Fi infrastructure that can be leveraged by both staff and residents, Kress says.

Wi-Fi ‘ups the game’

Cost and temporary inconvenience shouldn’t deter senior living providers from implementing robust Wi-Fi—especially since it’s so integral to communities’ ultimate success, McBride suggests.

“We really view the infrastructure as the building block for a lot of the programming, a lot of the care, and most of the business,” McBride says. “We believe that we really need to invest heavily in that infrastructure before we invest in anything else.”

Plus, both staff and residents are starting to demand Wi-Fi, McBride and Kress agree.

“Residents are expecting a rich set of tech amenities, forcing all of us to up our game and make sure that we’re providing consumer-class experiences,” Kress says. “They don’t want to feel like they’re taking a step back in terms of the tech available to them.”

Employees, meanwhile, expect that they should be able to use the same amount of technology at work as they do at home, he adds. That’s only possible with top-notch Wi-Fi.

Vitality, similarly, believes that reliable wireless coverage should be available throughout the entire building—an employee, in other words, should never have to search a building to access reliable Wi-Fi.

“If you or I stay at a hotel, we expect that the wireless will be good, free—and if it’s not, it’s a negative toward the overall experience,” McBride says.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

Photo: “Big-data_conew1” by luckey_sun, CC BY-SA 2.0

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