Facing ‘Fire Hose’ Of Innovation, Senior Living Ups Its Game

Many senior living operators are struggling to keep pace with technological innovations. For every forward thinking operator, there is another lagging behind.

Not only the pace of innovation but the costs to prepare for it can be overwhelming, Jodi Guffee, Chief Operating Officer of Radiant Senior Living in Portland, Oregon, told Senior Housing News.

“If you took on all the opportunities presented, it would be like drinking from a fire hose,” she said.

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As new advancements arrive by the day, providers are finding ways to cull the chaff from the wheat, keep up with the pace of change, budget for tech and pursue innovation in manageable and effective ways.

Technology is now a line item

Cost presents one of the largest hurdles to innovation.

Senior housing operators who are successful at integrating new technology into their operations recognize they need to spend the money and are budgeting to build up the capital reserves for the investment, LeadingAge Director of Residential Communities Stephen Maag told SHN.

“Technology is a line item,” Maag added.

Lifespire Living of Virginia is adding $1 million to its capital budget solely for IT growth and strategy, Lifespire COO Jonathan Cook told SHN. It is something Lifespire would not have been able to do a few years ago.

“We had nothing to reinvest,” he said. “But we became good fiscal stewards and have the money to allocate toward tech and other projects.”

Lifespire, which operates four continuing care retirement communities in northern Virginia, knows the commitment needs to be there in order to attract and retain workers, and to keep up with the competition.

Controlling the pace of change

Operators are also grappling with the pace of change, for themselves and residents, said Fran Palma, senior vice president of Skokie, Illinois-based Covenant Retirement Communities.

Covenant recently launched a new customer service and resident satisfaction pilot program in a handful of its 16 communities in nine states. This allows Covenant to monitor how quickly the new technology is adopted by residents and track penetration rates, which will determine how fast to deploy the program across its full platform.

“We don’t want to overwhelm everyone,” Palma said.

The right leaders

Leveraging innovation and technology into an operational platform demands having someone at the executive or board levels advocating for its implementation. Most firms have a chief information officer or chief technology officer in place, capable of raising the issue of tech investment to the C-suite or directors.

“At a minimum, these firms have outsourced their tech assessment to a third party,” Majd Alwan told SHN. Alwan is LeadingAge SVP of technology and executive director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST).

Lifespire is one of those operators. Recognizing the need to upgrade its IT infrastructure, the company partnered with Parasol Alliance, an IT consultancy based in Chicago and Milwaukee, to assess its current capability and future needs. Parasol is expected to turn in the final assessment, and recommendations, to Lifespire within the next 45 days.

“Parasol will function as an interim chief information officer for us,” Cook said. “They’ll write the plan and implement its movement.”

For smaller operators like Radiant, which operates 18 communities in Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Nevada, the advocacy for more tech investment starts at the top.

“We’re in that sweet spot as an operator where my husband [Radiant Senior Living President/CEO James Guffee] and I make most of the decisions and can roll out these things without too much heartburn,” Guffee said.

They also take into account the realities of workers acclimating to new software and innovations in their embrace of tech, she added. Radiant recently implemented Eldermark’s software platform, which integrates everything from client interaction to payables, and is in constant communication with employees and Eldermark on hiccups they are experiencing in the rollout, and finding solutions.

The trickiest part is evaluating platforms for longterm viability. There are new businesses and solutions popping up every day.

“We have to ask which solutions will have the most effect, and wonder which of these will still be in business a decade from now,” Covenant’s Palma said.

LeadingAge member operators are seeking out tech-savvy champions for their boards from other sectors with heavy investments in technology, such as acute care, hospitality and banking. All three sectors tend to have higher tech investments in their operating budgets.

“All of these sectors elevate tech to a strategic level, reducing barriers and encouraging boards to find resources to financially support initiatives,” Alwan said.

Written by Chuck Sudo

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