As baby boomers are moving into senior living, providers need to be able to keep up with the generation’s tech savviness or they risk losing business to the competition. One senior living provider recognizes that and has launched a full-blown technology overhaul.
Des Moines, Iowa-based Lifespace Communities has 12 continuing care retirement communities throughout seven states, making it the ninth-largest nonprofit senior living provider nationally.
The pressure to keep up with technology is growing and changing in senior living. Technology demands used to be enterprise-related, then turned health care-related and now they are consumer-related, according to a recent presentation at the Finance and Strategy Conference hosted by investment bank Ziegler.
Lifespace is recognizing the growing importance of consumer-tech, and this is an important part of its new tech roadmap in 2017.
Setting the foundation
Lifespace is positioning itself to take the technology in its communities to the next level in 2017, John Couture, vice president of information technology, explained to Senior Housing News.
“Historically we have been focused on operational issues like keeping the lights on and fixing desktop computers,” he said. “But this year we’ve started to focus our efforts on more strategic initiatives like things that will position Lifespace for growth as well as the tech-savvy baby boomers who are coming in in the next three to five years.”
There are many Lifespace residents who are using technology already, such as online banking and smartphones, but they are not nearly as savvy as those who are coming in, Couture adds.
So far this year, the IT team has upgraded Lifespace’s infrastructure and has expanded Wi-Fi usage throughout a few communities so residents can be connected in their apartments instead of just in common areas.
In addition to the few communities with campus-wide Wi-Fi, all communities have improved network bandwidth to help speed up connectivity in common areas.
“Only a certain percentage of our residents use mobile devices, but more and more children and grandchildren are getting residents iPads or smartphones as gifts,” Couture said. “So we wanted to start to implement technologies to encourage use of these products.”
Other foundational technology that has been put into place in select Lifespace communities includes a new telephone system that transmits voice data through the internet instead of using landlines, which can help reduce costs. The goal is to upgrade all communities with the new phone technology.
In the majority of communities, digital screens have been installed by Touchtown, a technology company that provides community apps, digital signage and other specialized technology for senior engagement.
“Many communities have digital bulletin boards that include the day’s menu, upcoming trips and other daily news,” Couture said. “We have rolled out Touchtown’s Community App tool, which allows residents to see the content of the digital signs on their mobile devices.”
With the foundation set, Lifespace will use 2017 to build two roadmaps for the next part of its tech makeover, Couture said.
“We will be looking at corporate IT solutions and applications among team members. Several of our technologies need to be updated,” he said. “The second roadmap will be for resident tech, which will include new technologies in our health centers relating to fall prevention, medication management and technology-connected apartments.”
Half of Lifespace’s communities are undergoing redevelopment and expansions into the new year and one of the things they will be looking at is what kind of technology they want to build into the new construction, Couture added. Connected apartments will allow many basic functions of apartments to be controlled from a mobile device, including the kitchen sink, the thermostat and even the television.
Another rollout for 2017 includes an added feature to Lifespace’s community app from Touchtown. There will be a chatting feature residents can use to communicate with each other on their iPad or mobile device.
“2017 is going to be a very exciting year for us. We’ve really positioned ourselves to focus on strategic initiatives as well as build these roadmaps and incorporate new technologies, but it is going to take a while to move this ship,” Couture said.
To help residents fully utilize the upcoming technology, the Lifespace Foundation has helped two communities purchase 73 tablets with help from grants from the foundation. The Lifespace Foundation hopes to expand these grants across all 12 of its locations in the coming years.
Giving residents better access to technology and the internet can only further enhance their time spent living at Lifespace.
“As more residents become regular users of devices such as iPads, it increases their connections with family members through texts, emails and social media such as Facebook,” Couture said. “The demand for technology in retirement communities will only increase as more members of the baby boomer generation retire.”
Written by Alana Stramowski