The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of senior housing, skilled nursing, home health, and hospice care. To see this year’s Future Leaders, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com/.
Erez Cohen, co-founder and co-ceo at August Health, has been named a 2022 Future Leader by Senior Housing News.
To become a Future Leader, an individual is nominated by their peers. The candidate must be a high-performing employee who is 40-years-old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for seniors, and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.
Cohen was interviewed by Senior Housing News to talk about his career trajectory and the ways he sees the industry evolving, including the need for reimagined relationships within senior living communities when it comes to technology infrastructure and technological modernization to improve staffing and overall community wellness.
What drew you to this industry?
In 2020 Dr. Justin Schram and I met by chance at a playground in San Francisco. I had just left my position at Apple a few years after it acquired the data analytics company that I started. I was exploring new ideas and jobs but wanted to make sure I was going to devote time to something meaningful, mission-driven, and oriented around doing good.
While our kids were on the swingset, Justin shared his experiences working in senior living communities when he was Medical Director at Landmark Health. He explained that while some of society’s most essential work takes place in senior living communities, these communities usually lack modern, easy-to- use technology to support the staff in their extensive care operations.
Justin had experienced first-hand the challenges of endless paper records and legacy technology systems that limited his team’s access to the information they needed to provide good, proactive care for residents. Getting a medication list, a care plan, or a history of recent incidents required digging through paper charts onsite, as they tried to create a picture of a resident from disparate and conflicting paperwork.
Together we started visiting communities and quickly saw an opportunity to support staff and caregivers by building modern software to drive high-quality care, automate busywork, simplify compliance, and streamline community operations.
We worked very closely with numerous communities to identify their biggest pain points and study their workflows before launching design sessions and creating a first set of product mocks with feedback from our partners. With just a set of product mocks and a pitch deck we launched August Health, signed our first anchor customer and raised a seed round.
What’s your biggest lesson learned since starting to work in this industry?
It’s become very clear that this industry is very people and relationship-driven. An important early decision we made was to work closely with customers before we started building a product. We visited communities, met staff and residents, shadowed med-passes and formed true partnerships with Executive Directors and staff members. We started building the first set of August Health products very closely with our initial users — people whom we would regularly text and call.
This people and relationship-centered approach continues to be a cornerstone of how we interact with our customers. Working with us is more of a partnership — I’m still on a first name basis with most of our customers. We also have close relationships with a key set of advisors who really have a pulse on the industry — folks like Joel Goldman from Hanson Bridgett and Josh Allen from Allen Flores Consulting have helped us build best practices right into our tools.
If you could change one thing with an eye toward the future of senior living what would it be?
We’ve noticed that most senior living leaders are dealing with numerous technologies and tools that don’t work well together. When these kinds of tools and systems don’t talk to each other, it becomes a headache for senior living leaders and potentially results in dangerous knowledge gaps for caregivers.
Having software, systems, and processes that interact well together and allow for information to be exchanged benefits every operator and every resident, and is something that the industry should be moving towards. Folks making purchasing decisions should be demanding this capability from their vendors. Unfortunately, some companies even purposefully make integrations more difficult by obscuring their data or documentation. In the broader healthcare industry, the lack of interoperability among healthcare software is estimated to cost $30 billion dollars annually.
When different systems can work together, decision-makers are free to select tools that best support their staff and operations. This results in improved care for residents, more productive and supported staff, and better insights for executives. It has the potential to be a significant force-multiplier across all levels of the industry.
What do you foresee as being different about the senior living industry looking ahead to 2023?
Across our customers and the industry, we’re seeing a crisis-level reduction in available staffing levels. Team members are burned out. We predict operators will make investments in retaining and recruiting staff with higher quality tools that truly support their daily workflows, make them more efficient, and elevate their individual impact and job satisfaction. In 2023 it will become increasingly clear that legacy technology systems that add friction and inefficiency are unsustainable for overworked caregiving teams.
Families expect digital-first experiences from senior living communities. Other industries used Covid as a catalyst to adopt standard digital practices, like digital forms, e-signatures, email and text updates. Families now need 24-7 visibility into the care their loved ones are receiving, as well as seamless communication. Senior living operators that are able to make digital improvements to their workflows will come out ahead of peers who don’t keep up with family expectations.
Industry leaders need to have visibility into what’s actually happening in their buildings. The industry is effectively flying blind – the combination of paper and disparate legacy systems make answering simple but critical questions impossible – how many falls did I have across my portfolio yesterday? How much should I be charging for new residents? What’s the average acuity across my communities, and is this changing over time? These are difficult to impossible to answer in today’s environment, even among the most sophisticated operators. We foresee operators wanting not just more data, but more insight about their communities.
In a word, how would you describe the future of the senior living industry?
What quality must all Future Leaders possess?
Empathy. While the senior living industry reflects a complex network of professional, regulatory, and social systems, the core of the industry is people. This is probably most visible in the industry dedicated but overworked staff and caregivers. The people that are actually handing out the medications, or helping with an escort or creating a care plan. To be an effective leader in the industry, you absolutely have to have empathy for the people doing the hard work on the ground. By understanding the day-to-day joys, struggles, motivations and goals of a team, leaders can inspire its best performance and cultivate a culture of excellence. One of our main goals at August Health is to fully support staff and caregivers in providing the best care. This is reflected in our company’s Mission: “To empower the essential work of caring for our elders.”
If you could give advice to yourself looking back to your first day in the industry, what would it be and why?
To have fun and do your best work. In the end, it’s all about improving the lives of the residents.