Senior living providers are actively seeking ways to make sure employees can provide residents the best care in the most efficient way possible, and they’re finding equipping front-line staff with mobile technology is essential to achieve that sweet spot.
Having a Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) system as the foundation is the key.
“Once you’ve got that campus-wide wireless network, you can use anything on it that you want, whether it’s a regular desktop computer, a wireless laptop, tablets, or computer carts that get pushed from room to room,” says Bryan Fuhr, co-founder of Healthsense and vice president of marketing and business development.
In June 2012, Brookdale Senior Living—the nation’s largest senior living provider—announced the large-scale implementation of wireless network solutions into its communities to enable higher levels of care, the use of electronic medical records, and to provide wireless Internet access to residents.
“We’re finding mobility is key for our EMR applications. It gives us the ability to do bedside support and therapy in many locations, without having to be connected by a wire,” Chris Fadrowski, Senior Director of IT Infrastructure for Brookdale, said at the time.
Other senior living companies are following suit. Fuhr says he frequently encounters providers that are considering a substantial Wi-Fi investment if they haven’t already made one.
“Reinvesting in technology is now simply a requirement, not just for facilitating the mobility of staff, but also for delivering good care,” he says. “Delivering senior living services in the future is going to be close to impossible unless you’ve made those investments.”
About 40% of hospitals reported having Wi-Fi deployed across their entire campus, according to research released by wireless solutions provider Meru Networks, Inc. in March, and senior living is starting to catch up, says Fuhr.
“Senior living clearly has less capital than hospitals for capital expenditures like [pervasive Wi-Fi],” he says. “They need it as an investment, but they’re not doing this without knowing there’s a positive return on investment.”
Costs and ROI
The cost of deploying Wi-Fi or implementing a technology platform varies depending on the size of the community. It can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 for a midsize senior living community with about 80 units, estimates Sarah Jones, product marketing manager at Healthsense, depending on their needs.
There’s definitely pressure by stakeholders to prove or demonstrate ROI before making technology investments, Fuhr says, but mobile technology for senior living employees can actually increase revenue, according to Mark Woodka, CEO of OnShift, a senior living staffing software provider.
“Looking at front-line workers, if I’m running a senior living organization, there’s tremendous opportunity to recapture revenue leakage by equipping care staff with mobile technology,” Woodka says.
New residents usually undergo an assessment to determine what level of care and services they’ll need. But their condition isn’t static, he says, and could change from one week to the next.
The ability to instantly enter information into a mobile device makes it easier to capture all the services that are rendered at the point of care, he says, rather than returning to a main office or a kiosk in the hallway.
Wi-Fi-enabled mobility is also crucial to many alert systems, including Healthsense’s emergency call system which includes portable phones for staff-to-staff calls. The system-enabled phones are usually less expensive than equipping staff with some combination of pagers, walkie-talkies, or cell phones with costly usage plans.
Residents who use the system’s emergency alert pendants can connect directly with staff, and providers can track and analyze usage and care response times.
Especially on sprawling senior living campuses, but also in congregate living situations, the ability to quickly communicate and access information can be invaluable.
Upgrading Communications for Residents’ Safety
“Without a mobile device, caregivers are isolated. With the device, they can reach out to peers for help and assistance,” Fuhr says. Accessing a resident’s electronic health record via an iPad on the spot rather than having to locate paper files can facilitate a more timely—even life-saving—response.
Being aware of situations as they happen is of vital importance, says Mike McLeod, president of senior living technology provider Status Solutions, which recently introduced a mobile dashboard to its Situational Awareness and Response Assistant (SARA) automated alerting product.
“The beauty of mobile [devices] is [their] mobility,” he says. “No matter where you are, you’ll want to know what’s happening: if someone’s having a stroke, or if there’s a tornado coming. Awareness trumps ignorance.”
Adding an e-messenger component to SARA increases the alert system’s reach to basically any screen, whether TV, tablet, or iPhone.
The benefits are plentiful: Emergency alerts can be initiated from a resident’s mobile device and can be sent instantly to a staffer’s mobile device, usually resulting in faster response times.
OnShift noticed in the past year a huge uptick in smartphone adoption among front-line workers after tracking which browsers were being used to access its site.
In a lot of cases, says Woodka, smartphones are senior living staff’s primary computing device, and they may not even have a desktop computer.
Adding mobile capabilities to scheduling software allows employees to view schedules, request time off, or add a shift—a major perk for someone who may have another job and not enough time to make unnecessary trips to their workplace. On the executive side, mobile staffing software has perks, too.
“We wanted to offer labor trends, cost data, and projections at the fingertips of regional executives who may be moving between 12 to 15 communities,” says Woodka. “It’s a big trend with senior living: they want to staff properly, and being able to see [the numbers] in the moment is very beneficial to them.”
At its simplest, mobile technology helps front-line staff do their jobs and make sure a senior living community runs smoothly.
“Everyone should be able to know what’s going on at any given time, whether you’re the housekeeper, a caregiver, an administrator, the maintenance guy, etc.,” McLeod says. “To have a portal that allows them to be told, 100% of the time, what’s going on—that’s what it’s all about.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace
This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA, visit www.alfa.org.