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Episode 39: Sheri Rose

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We have a very exciting guest today as we continue our podcast series here at the Thrive Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Welcome CEO and ED Sheri Rose.

Sheri: Thank you. I appreciate you coming in today.

Lucas: Your hospitality so far has been a really welcoming experience for us. You’ve opened up the entire place to us to have interviews and meetings and I think that for our audience and for the people who are listening, it’s something that’s really really special and we’re going to cherish this memory and this time. I’m so glad it’s been recorded.

Josh: Yeah, so, Lucas and I were talking and we had the opportunity to tour a little bit in the beginning and learn about it. We’ve been here podcasting all day. A lot of times when we have been doing this all day, we’re a little bit tired and the brain is tired. But, we feel energized.

The innovation that is here, the energy and all that you’re doing, we just want to be part of it. And, so like I just said, we want to be a part of the family here now-

Sheri: -and you are.

Josh: -thank you. So, thanks for the hospitality. We are excited for our listeners that come from all walks of senior housing and services, different stakeholders, to hear because there’s a lot of people, I think, (that) this is the nugget, the gem, that a lot of people have heard of, but a lot of people haven’t. And for those that haven’t had an opportunity, I think they’ll be able to see some of that on YouTube, but I want them to hear from you like what you guys are doing here.

But, maybe before that, tell us just a little background and what brought you to where you are today.

Sheri: It’s interesting. I had a 30-year career with AT&T Bellsouth and so I was always on the technology side. I had the government education and medical markets so ran a whole partnership operations, liaison to the governor’s office for that operations. What I realized is technology is only an enabler and so…for that person who needs the applications to work, it takes technology, it takes an infrastructure which you’ve walked through the center and you’ve realized there’s a lot of WiFi connectivity and internet and all these apps. But they work because that infrastructure that’s underlying the technology.

So, coming out of that I had an opportunity to take a severance package and I volunteered for it and said I’ve had a long 30-year career. I took the last of the Bellsouth severance package and went into health consulting.

It was around 2016 when Joe Steier of Signature came to me and said, will you help us navigate the politics of trying to drive collaboration here in town. What a lot of people don’t realize about Louisville is the aging capitol of the U.S. with all of the organizations that are headquartered here and I think $76 billion done out of Louisville and then 200,000 employees.

And so these organizations headquartered here touch all 50 states. So, with Humana down the street…and Signature and Trilogy…a lot of these are on our board as well. The CEOs of these organizations, what they realized is you have to be more innovative. Where we do innovation external here, we create community asset. So, with Signature health care having economic incentives to relocate their headwuarters back here, it became important to push it out to a 501(c)3. So, we are a non-profit organization here and what we do is open our doors and we partner with all of the organizations here in town.

And so, I will always say I no longer work for a career. I had a career. I work for a passion. This gave me an opportunity to take health care consulting and really once I navigated the politics, then they came back and said, you know, you really need to be the face and run the center. And I thought, you know, this is an opportunity for me to give back into an economy that is a growing economy. A longevity economy.

Josh: Well, exciting. So tell us a little bit about your consumers (and) who you are serving here because just in the short time that we’ve been here today, we’ve seen a variety of people walking through, looking at these different stations and technologies and innovations and looked like a lot of variety in the groups that come through here. So, who are you attracting?

Sheri: So, here’s what I would say to you. You kind of have to look at a glimpse of the future to look at what’s happening. So, there’s 10,000 of us baby boomers turning 65 every day. You’re looking at 76 million baby boomers in the U.S. alone. And then you’re also looking at 1.7 licensed beds in the U.S. So, as we look at that aging population, you have to be thinking, where are we going to go? Who’s going to take care of us?

We will as a baby boomer outgrow the supply. And so, we’ve got to be more innovative in our approach.

The other thing that we always look at is you’ve got a generation that on an average only has about 50,000 of savings and for retirement. When you look at the cost of care… it’s projected to be at 20,000 a month in 2040. You’ve exhausted your savings.

So, what we want to do is give a glimpse into the future here of what it’s going to be like with innovation to be able to age at home. What we want people to capture when they walk in here, we’re about living and thriving and not aging and dying. When you look at the displays in here, you capture the personal stories of seniors and the possibilities.

The Sister Buder in the back- 87 years old running marathons and was a triathlete. She’s known as the Iron Nun. And then you see just the every day senior who talks about what it means to have to reinvent their lives.

So, when they come through here, we wanted it to be an immersive experience. So, I can tell you what we didn’t want it to be and that’s a trade show floor. So, where we have entrepreneurs that come in here, it’s very much based on what our theme is. Right now our theme is around cognitive fitness, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and we then challenge that tech company to give us a use case on how does your technology fit into that theme- how can you bring quality of life and quality of care to that person with dementia? And then we really try and develop programs around the technology because I really think it’s the programs that will draw the seniors in here.

Consider us a marketplace. We’re a convergence of that provider organization, always looking at innovation technologies, and an entrepreneur that comes into town that might have difficulty getting into the door of these companies. They have a great product, they may just need feedback from that consumer and so we serve that. Provider organization, entrepreneur, the consumer, is right at the top of getting that good quality feedback and they’re brutally honest with you. And then the researcher. We can do research out of here too. So, what do seniors like? What works and what doesn’t?

Josh: It’s been really cool even while Lucas and I have been here to see a couple of consumers that we have had the opportunity to share some of their stories. Just a moment ago they had the VR goggles on and just having a great time providing feedback, pros and cons, and things like that. So, this is such a wealth of information.

What is next here? It seems like you’re always looking ahead. What are you looking to now?

Sheri: We are. With any innovation center, you have to maintain your relevancy, and you guys know how quickly technology changes. I grew up with technology and I said, you know, if I ever go into a senior community, I’m going to go in with my wearable, my Amazon Alexa, with my Samsung smart remote TV. But, I have two daughters and my daughters are going to go in demanding it. I expect it (and) they will demand it because it’s all that they’ve known. And they’re more willing to accept technology.

You take a senior-friendly easy tablet and how it can integrate all the apps for them and they love it. They can sit there and they no longer have subscriptions. They’re reading online. They can play their games online. They can do a video chat with their family members and Netflix. So, you think of our grandparents, technology is really brought a lot into the lives of these seniors.

What’s next for us as we have focused on dementia in here, we are now looking at 2019- what are we going to be and really looking at more of a care giving theme. And with that care giving theme, there are a few things that are in common. Dementia can be one and also movement disorders. And so now we are going to revamp the front of the center here to a dementia virtual reality walk. (We’re) actually working with a company out of LA. I thoroughly believe in partnerships. We can do more together than silo and so I reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association and I said, let us curate your message in here.

And so this really becomes a curated center where we take the fear out of technology and we invite them to come in, to be educated, to immerse in the technology, to play with the virtual reality. With the virtual reality that we will do around Alzheimer’s, it’s going to be more of the dementia walk and journey where through the eyes of someone with Alzheimer’s you actually get to experience what it’s like.

Josh: Fascinating. So, like anything that is a great thing, something that is worthy, it has its challenges, it has its obstacles. What are maybe some of the obstacles and challenges and how are you guys overcoming them?

Sheri: I would say the big thing is we always look at sustainability. There’s a lot of excitement around what we are doing. It’s getting the word out to say come in here. The one thing we don’t want to do is to charge a senior who may be on a fixed income to come in here and to see the technologies to be a part of the programs.

You just heard Feet to the Fire. We partnered with Fund for the Arts to underwrite the writer’s workshop and they gave good feedback on if it hadn’t been underwritten, they may not have signed up. Where they quit writing, they are writing again in their voice.

So, I think for us in looking at that model where we’re not an accelerator. For the companies who are in here, we don’t take equity from companies, we don’t take commissions from those companies, because we would be conflicted in our view if we did. We want what’s been vetted out, what’s commercially ready and we want to bring it in here to where all of our visitors can really engage in that technology and then be a part of the programs.

So, outside, we do have the support of the organizations here in town that help run the operations but a lot of fundraising so that we can promote more and more programs through here. We run a very lean operation as a new non-profit startup. I have two part time employees who work full time and at the end of the day they say your part-time workers are leaving but they’ve been here all day with me because we’re all retired working now working for a passion and we believe what we are doing in here.

Josh: Well, it’s evident, right Lucas?

Lucas: Yeah, yeah. From our walkthrough, you’ve been able to accomplish a lot. I mean, to be able to bring some of the names that are actually in here to Bridge the Gap and some of the largest operators in the country to support something that, and we may get into this in a minute, that might be a challenge to their actual business which is the home.

So, you’ve accomplished a bunch of big tasks. Why don’t you walk us through just verbally a couple of the setups that you have here with some of the companies? They’re global companies that have backed putting their products in this building.

Sheri: Yeah, they have. CDW who came to us early on, they’re probably one of the largest distributors in the U.S. of the big tech companies- so, Apple, Samsung, Google, Innovo, Intel, Aruba. They came to the table and they said, we love this concept because there’s nothing like this out there. There are innovation centers that, the ones that I have visited, its more about operators and its more about co-working space and mentoring. But in here, we really took innovation and curated it into a message and to get that immersive engaging experience.

So, for Samsung to come in here an to build out the Samsung Smart Home. They have integrated with Billy, which is a company that does a lot of the motion sensors actually started in Australia and they are headquartered out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Samsung has the macular degeneration glasses so you think of seniors with macular degeneration and no longer reading and no longer watching TV, now they are able to put those glasses on and see and sometimes for the first time.

I consider Eversound where we’ve implemented it throughout this center. Last week we did a silent disco with Eversound. They’re MIT grad guys, young guys, and they tell me they cry every day when they hear the stories of a senior who may be diagnosed with dementia. They didn’t have dementia at all, they just couldn’t hear. And so we can take those and do a high definition here for the hearing impaired.

Last week, when Dr. Rhew was here, he’s the chief medical officer for Samsung, he said, Sheri, what if we staged in here an area where we focus on the sight impairment? Or the hearing impairment? Or gait and balance? And so you bring seniors through here and you can get good feedback on some of these headsets on virtual reality and you can run them through a gait and balance assessment.

And, that’s an interesting one, where we partner with Bellarmine (University) and their PT students comes in here and they get hands on learning with seniors and they get a gait and balance assessment. They use the virtue sense technology so no one has to know how that operates other than PT, but it’s cloud based and right away we get a fall risk score and then we can refer them out.

What I like about that is the whole ecosystem is connected when we’re doing that. Workforce is a huge issue and especially for these organizations in town. You talk about going to a care giving theme and the care givers it will take. What we’re looking at is how do we recruit and how do you take a PT student getting their doctorate, give them hands on training and then they actually say, I want to go into geriatrics.

We actually heard that in here once they came through a semester and I thought how cool because most of them want to go into sports medicine. To have him come out and have him say, I’m staying in Louisville and I wanna go into geriatrics and to look at these organizations in town that are in need of more and more employees going into it could be a CNA, a nurse or an OT, a PT.

Lucas: That outreach function of this, of recruiting and bringing people into the business is such a key component of this, don’t you think?

Josh: I think it’s critical. It’s one of the big challenges as operators. We’re all scratching our heads and everybody’s kind of thumb in the wind, like what do we do. So, this center I think is a big catalyst for talking points and pivot points where we can actually help find some solutions. I’ve been fascinated, you know. It’s awesome that our listeners get to hear about this, maybe for the first time, but you’ve got to see it. I mean, just the experience of, I call it for lack of a better term, the smart kitchen over here which everyone should have a smart kitchen now that I am seeing that the benefits transcend the ages. The technology that is being brought together to collaborate is fascinating.

Lucas: Yeah and so, I’m interested to ask this question. So, I’m a partner to the industry and one of the things I hear when I go to conferences is that the biggest competition to the senior living industry is the home and this is an innovation center that is largely centered around innovation and technology in the home so the senior can live a life, the path that they want to live. You’ve been able to partner and get backing and buy in some of the biggest operators in the country. So, maybe it’s a naïve question from a partner, but I’d be interested to figure out how you’ve bridged that gap.

Sheri: Well, when you think of CDW who is a distributor and you think of the challenges of an entrepreneur and I have a heart for the entrepreneur because I see them come in here and, you know, I see them stay at the bed and breakfast in town and sometimes they’ll tell stories where they sleep in their car because (with) cash, they are strapped. And also to keep their finances down and their burn rate.

So, what we’re able to do for that entrepreneur that comes in here is I will invite people to come over. I’ll have Dr. Rothman from Kindred, Dr. Nazir from Signature, Dr. Thurmond of the Institute at the University of Louisville and they will give then good feedback on their product. It may be, you know, I carry shawls with embodied labs, the virtual tour actually had…come in too and able to give her good feedback. She could go back and maybe augment what she’s doing and then once they’re commercially ready, then you have the CDWs that want to pick them up and distribute for them because that’s also a challenge.

You know, I’ve been asked what are you in here? Are you B to B or are you B to C or are you B to B to C? I said, you know what, all of the above but if you put on your entrepreneur hat for a second, where are you going to go first? You’re going to go to the enterprise because it’s the quickest way to drive a revenue stream but through here could we introduce them to the consumer market too? As well as the provider market?

We really open up a lot of possibilities here and so making those connections. You know, for Dr. Rhew at Samsung to say we invested in this center and we want to launch new products out of this center because they see the possibilities here. We have organizations from the east to the west coast that will host a meeting in there like last week where they’re listening to Samsung and they’re listening to Intel talk about this is the future.

So, they get a glimpse into the future. They can walk through here and they see possibilities and then we can be that referral out and that’s really how we kind of tie the ecosystem together. But, I have to tell you, probably through CDW, they found us and they realized the concept of what we were trying to build out here and they wanted to be a part of it.

Lucas: So, Josh, I know that you have a heart and passion for multigenerational living and the same question that I had this technology, it plays out in an operational setting, it plays out in a community setting too and I imagine that on the forefront coming in the future is that this technology is going to be based in a care environment where people are living.

So what are your thoughts just maybe the multigenerational business and the technologies moving into these communities.

Josh: Yeah, it’s an interesting question and I think one of the challenges that providers are facing right is because it is so rapidly changing, there’s so many technologies out there, there’s so many similar technologies out there and providers I think often time want to be on the cutting age but it’s so difficult to balance with everything that they are doing on a day to day basis to be able to vet what’s best for them. Because, technology is great, but what is the application? How are they going to apply it?

And user friendliness and consumer friendliness and things like that, I think that’s one of the real critical pieces here and what I’ve seen, you do a lot of the vetting for them. You actually, again we may overuse this term, but bridge the gap to where you piece it together of how these technologies can even work together for actually solutions.

I think the multigenerational model, there’s a lot of drivers I think that will kind of force that change to occur but one of the drivers is looking for more affordable concepts and I think there is sometimes a resistance to change in general. Our industry is not what it was 10 years ago and in 10 more years it’s going to be radically different than it is today.

So, the center here to me is a great opportunity for people to come, to partner, to learn. I do think you’re breaking down the silos and that’s something that we talk about a lot at Bridge the Gap that that’s something in a competitive business, a competitive industry, we need something like this that’s kind of a neutral zone to bring people together. So, it’s exciting.

Lucas: Great conversation Sheri. We are so grateful for your time today. You’ve rolled out the red carpet for us and really given us a lot of your time and energy and I’ve just learned a lot while we’ve been here and I think it’s going to be great content back to our listeners and audience.

So, the conversation doesn’t stop here. It goes back to online and we encourage our listeners to engage with us on our social channels. Thank you again for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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Episode 39: Sheri Rose