Merrill Gardens President: Google Nest Initiative Has Made Me ‘A Believer’ In the Tech

The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated the adoption of technology within senior living, with communities across the nation rapidly implementing a variety of tools.

One of the most high-profile tech rollouts of 2020 has been occurring at buildings operated by Merrill Gardens, where Google has been deploying Nest Hub Max devices with adaptations for older adult users. Google and Merrill Gardens hoped to reduce feelings of isolation by empowering residents to stay in contact with loved ones during the pandemic.

The initiative garnered media attention when Google unveiled it in May, and so far, the effort is proving successful, Merrill Gardens President Tana Gall told Senior Housing News. About 800 apartments now have Nest Max Hub devices, and residents’ continued engagement with the tech is a positive sign, given that tech pilots can follow a pattern of excitement followed by a plateau in usage and then a decline.

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Indeed, the senior living sector has been plagued by pilots, beta tests and other initiatives that end with a fizzle rather than enterprise-level adoption. The Google Nest project appears to be on a more promising trajectory.

“There’s always this big splash at the beginning, and now that we’re six or seven months in, it’s become a norm, and we’ve got super users and big believers,” Gall said.

The Nest Hub Max devices come pre-loaded with 12 contacts, which means that residents have a plug-and-play experience when it comes to contacting their friends and loved ones.

This adaptation has made the devices more user-friendly for senior living residents while maintaining the functionality and appeal of the Nest product, emphasized Ginna Baik, Strategic Business Development Manager for Senior Care at CDW Healthcare. CDW Healthcare played an advisory role in connecting Google and Merrill Gardens.

“I’m against technology that’s created for senior living residents; I’m for technology that everyone can use,” Baik told SHN. “That’s what innovation is really about in this space — feeling empowered to use technology that everyone is using, and that technology has improved because it’s focused on ease of use for all.”

The Nests deployed at Merrill Gardens also have shortcuts so that residents can more easily access features and functions, such as playing certain music or accessing other media.

“I would say residents are also using the platform to further their own intellect — someone has watched operas from across the world,” Gall said.

Google also set the Nest devices up on a fleet management system, meaning that they run in “signed out” mode and no audio is stored. These adjustments are important in reassuring older adults of their privacy and security, Baik noted.

Interest in the senior living space from a technology company like Google is a positive sign, she said. Increasingly, providers are developing smart and robust technology plans for the future; one additional consideration they should make is that future residents will have familiarity with products for the general consumer market and, therefore, a higher expectation around technology.

Merrill Gardens has been on the leading edge of tech adoption within the senior living industry. In addition to the Nest Hub Max project, company leaders are currently evaluating how tech can play a role in a new middle-market brand while also continuing to provide iPads to new residents, Gall said.

And, she would welcome having Nest Max Hubs in every Merrill Gardens unit. The installation of the devices is simple and using them requires little involvement from staff — this can also be a sticking point for tech adoption, if workers feel that new devices or systems create more burden than benefit.

But while Merrill Gardens is thinking through the most efficient ways to support technology in general, there have not been any “big frustrations” with the Nest Max Hub, Gall said. Merrill Gardens is collaborating with Google, sharing feedback and ideas, and discussing how to move forward in mutually beneficial ways.

“I’m a believer right now,” she said.

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