Provider Shares ‘Roadmap’ for Senior Living Tech Overhauls

A prominent senior living provider in New Jersey has succeeded in an ambitious technology upgrade, thanks in large part to a detailed “roadmap” that other operators now can use as a template. That’s because the project at the Francis E. Parker Memorial Home is one of six new case studies in strategic IT planning that were recently released by long-term care provider association LeadingAge.

The IT overhaul at Parker began in late 2008, when the board and management began to develop the organization-wide “Technology Strategy and Roadmap” as part of a 10-year strategic plan with expansion as a key goal. The leaders recognized that updated technology would be crucial to achieving some of the strategic plan’s overarching objectives—and that current approaches would not be sufficient.

“IT services were limited to a part-time contractor and minimal use of communications, data and applications technologies, with an annual IT operating expense of less than 1% of total operations expense,” the case study states. “IT capital investments were also very limited with less than 5% of capital investment focused on IT.”

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An IT task force—including a trustee, senior executive, senior managers, a geriatric physician and a physician trustee—engaged an outside consultant to help draft the roadmap so that it would be aligned with the overall strategic plan.

The roadmap broke down into five disciplines that would be matured over a period of time: infrastructure, such as the network foundation; applications, such as those used by clinical, financial and administrative operations; process and services, which would involve selecting and implementing a portfolio of IT solutions; and governance, to oversee implementation and effective use of tech investments.

A gap analysis revealed what was lacking in the provider’s then-current technology, and the roadmap was filled in with the best options for addressing the gaps. Considerations to choose the best options included cost, user needs, time-to-value, and how difficult it would be to convert to the new tech.

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Developing a roadmap also involved benchmarking against similar providers—Parker being a primarily private-pay operator serving about 400 seniors through a continuum of services, including assisted living, skilled nursing and adult day programs. Best-in-class peers were contributing about 4% of operating expenses and 20% to 25% of capital investments to IT, the benchmarking determined.

The final roadmap laid out four years of initiatives that would take place in three “leaps”: building a foundation, investing in operational excellence, and technology innovations to differentiate in the market.

Implemented through 2014, the roadmap has proven successful.

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Annual IT services spending now is level at 3.5% of operating expense, and the annual IT capital investment is at 20%. The three “leaps” drove efficiencies and helped the organization avoid costs, and supported its successful expansion—Parker doubled in size while maintaining 90%-plus employee satisfaction, 10% turnover, and high quality of care as measured by regulatory compliance figures. It also has a “robust and growing” waitlist of potential residents.

Still, Parker leaders caution that measuring the benefit of technology investments is not straightforward. Board members and management have determined that IT initiatives should not be postponed until “hard dollar savings” can be proven, or it would compromise the company’s long-term competitiveness.

Another tip Parker offers in the case study: Executing on their roadmap required some investment in having the right people in place, which meant a combination of in-house staff and outsourcing.

Other newly released case studies focus on topics such as outsourcing helpdesk infrastructure, updating IT as part of a campus redevelopment, and enterprise-level electronic medical record adoption and its impact on organizational change. The case study report is a supplement to the Strategic IT Planning Workbook initially released in March by the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST).

The workbook is meant to “bridge the gap” between the strategic level guidance resources and the operational hands-on technology selection tools offered by CAST.

An interactive online module that summarizes workbook information also was released last Thursday, as were flowcharts showing the different phases of the IT planning and implementation process.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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