Growing Rideshare Program Gives Brookdale a ‘Lyft’

Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) is scaling up a pilot with ridesharing company Lyft, in an effort to create a resident transportation model that is more customer-friendly and operationally efficient.

Typically, senior living providers offer transportation to residents on a pre-scheduled basis. This is not ideal, Andrew Smith, director of strategy and innovation at Brookdale, said Tuesday at the Post Acute Link Care Continuum Conference in Chicago.

“It’s not a good customer experience,” he said. “We leave people stranded at the doctor’s office for an hour because we’re going to pick up the other resident who’s getting dialysis.”

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Partnering with Lyft has started to solve this problem for Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale. Now, residents at participating communities can request a Lyft ride through the community’s concierge service, meaning they do not need to have a smartphone or navigate the app themselves, but still can enjoy on-demand transportation—not only to the doctor, but to run errands, go to the museum, visit family, or for any other purpose.

After starting in 10 communities last year, there now are 25 Brookdale locations offering the Lyft service. As the largest senior living provider nationally, Brookdale has about 1,100 communities nationwide, so the program might seem like a drop in the bucket. However, the potential for the partnership is substantial, and it is continuing to scale up now that the pilot has shown its effectiveness, Smith said.

While the program right now is available in independent living, its benefits could be even more striking for assisted living and memory care, he added. That’s because transportation for these residents sometimes requires double labor: a driver and a caregiver to accompany and assist the resident. And the driver might have to be pulled from other job responsibilities at the community to provide the ride. So, replacing that driver with a Lyft worker would create workforce efficiencies. It also could make sense from a liability standpoint.

“Especially in the assisted living and memory care space, we sometimes have associates driving their own cars or residents’ vehicles,” Smith said. “So, we have to train the driver, get insurance on the vehicle, and [handle] all of the risk components as well as the administrative burden of keeping all of that up … we like the idea of transferring some of that to Lyft.”

All Lyft drivers are required to be insured, and Lyft provides an additional $1 million in auto and general liability on all rides, said Lyft Head of Elder Mobility Dan Trigub.

Brookdale currently is “experimenting” with the Lyft offering in assisted living and memory care, Smith said.

Under the hood

The operational logistics of the Lyft program are straightforward. A Brookdale resident phones the concierge at the community, who arranges the Lyft ride utilizing the app’s “requester” technology, which allows a third-party to book a ride on behalf of someone else.

When the resident needs a ride back to the community, he or she calls the front desk from wherever they are, and the concierge arranges a pickup. To make this call, the resident either uses his or her own cellphone or a phone at the location, such as the doctor’s office. It’s also possible to schedule a ride up to a week in advance. For shorter excursions, the driver sometimes just waits and does a round-trip service.

The ability of the front desk concierge to remotely arrange Lyft rides also enables the Brookdale communities to extend their range of service, Trigub noted. A Brookdale resident in California could fly to New York City to visit family, and call the front desk from La Guardia airport to arrange for a pick-up, for example.

Ride charges are added to residents’ monthly bills, just as other ancillary services are, Smith told Senior Housing News. But communities also have the freedom to be more creative and leverage the Lyft service as a perk.

One community offered a prospective resident free Lyft rides to a memory care community down the road where his wife resides, as a way of standing out from other local providers.

Lyft drivers do not receive any special training in working with older adults, but Brookdale has found that this is not necessary. Just as drivers get out of the car to assist a rider with heavy luggage, they are quick to help a senior with a walker or other needs, Smith said.

When the Lyft service first rolls out in a community, there is an education effort that includes letters to families and resident council meetings. Any concerns that family members have about the safety of using a ridesharing service have been calmed in large part by hearing stories from residents who are fans of the service, according to Smith. And families are excited that the Lyft program will increase their loved one’s independence, and resolve some of the issues related to scheduled transportation.

“Families are worried that mom’s going to be isolated in the community and not doing anything,” Smith said. “They’ve had that negative experience with scheduled transportation. The families, we’ve found, are not in any way against [the pilot]. They know about ridesharing and are excited we’re bringing it to senior living.”

Written by Tim Mullaney

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