Laura Edwards, Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at Clark-Lindsey in Urbana, IL joins Amber Bardon and Rachel Lugge of Parasol Alliance to discuss the most critical components of designing a resident technology strategy that will support the needs and expectations of future residents. Laura shares the Clark-Lindsey technology journey and how they are working to cultivate a culture of innovation that truly empowers residents and their use of technology. Laura and Amber highlight resident technology trends in the market and the tactical advice all providers should consider as they embark on their own unique resident technology program development.
Hello, and welcome back to Raising Tech. I’m Rachel Lugge with Parasol Alliance, and today we are diving into all things resident technology, one of the hottest tech topics in senior living today. Resident technology programming is so popular, in fact, that we are dedicating two episodes to this topic. And because there are so many aspects to explore, we’ve grouped the discussion into three key areas. So, the first is using technology in your community to support and care for your residents, like medical records systems and tele-health. The second would be residents using technology in your community, such as smart home devices and resident engagement platforms. And then finally, what kind of support is needed for the residents themselves as they use the technology that’s available to them? So this could be like a resident help desk. So before we dive in, let’s introduce who’s at the table for today’s discussion. We have our host Amber Bardon, CEO of Parasol Alliance, and our guest Laura Edwards, Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at Clark Lindsey in Urbana, Illinois. So Laura, we are thrilled to have you with us today, especially because Clark Lindsey has always been known in the field as a front runner and a pioneer in the areas of technology and innovation. So why don’t we start with you? Can you tell us just a little bit about Clark Lindsey? What do our listeners need to know about you and your community?
Sure. Thanks so much for having me. Clark Lindsey was founded in 1977. We’re right next door to the University of Illinois. We’re a single site, nonprofit life plan community. We have about 300 residents and around the same number of employees. I’ve been here for 10 years and in a variety of different roles, have seen our community evolve in the way that we use technology and the way our residents use technology. So this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and I love to see the ways that our residents can use technology to improve their lives.
Excellent. Amber for anybody who might be tuning in today for the first time. Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself and Parasol Alliance?
Sure Rachel, I’m Amber Bardon. I am the CEO of Parasol Alliance. Parasol Alliance is a technology solutions company. We focus exclusively in the senior living industry and we provide strategic technology solutions as well as day-to-day IT support.
All right. Thank you. Well, thank you both. I am so excited about today’s conversation. So to get started, why don’t we start with the big picture? Let’s start with innovation. Why is resident technology, why is innovation in resident technology and senior living so important today in this very moment, perhaps versus even a couple years ago?
Rachel, this is definitely a big area of demand and we’re seeing this at all of our client locations. We have an open project, or a project on the roadmap focused on resident technology for pretty much all of the communities that we work with. Most of the projects are focused around resident engagement applications and in the communities that are working on campus expansion projects, including Clark Lindsey. We’re looking at things like smart home applications, or we’ll get into this a little bit more with the conversation with Laura, even things like robotics and other ways that we can be innovative with solutions for residents when it comes to technology. We’re also seeing much more of a demand for our Tech at Home program, which is a technology support service offered directly to the residents. And that actually, we saw much more of a demand for that with COVID.
One of the things that we’ve heard Ziegler’s say is that COVID had technology as a silver lining, and we definitely see the adoption and acceleration of technology use not only in the senior living community staff, but definitely on the resident side. And just, I think the overcoming of some of the fear of technology use and more of an appetite for technology in the senior population. And that led to just really more use and adoption of technology overall.
So, Laura, can you tell us a little bit about what’s been going on specifically at Clark Lindsey around this aspect of technology with the seniors?
The way we see it, residents are at the center of our, ‘why’ we do what we do. We acknowledge that as a community, we can only be as technologically advanced as our residents are willing to be. If we support residents in the technologies that they want to use to live their best lives, they will be more willing and more efficient users of the technologies that we as an organization wish to adopt, especially to optimize our operations. And this is exactly why we never skip over that resident technology piece in our strategic planning process.
I love that you start with the ‘why,’ and the residents are at the center of your ‘why,’ as far as the philosophy and the kind of the approach that you’re taking with your technology planning for residents. We know the ‘why’, and what’s driving your philosophy towards technology in your community. You’ve adapted some really unique and multifaceted resident technology programming. Can you describe some of that programming, what you’re currently doing at Clark Lindsey and how the programming has impacted your residents in their day-to-day?
Sure. We’re pretty lucky to be neighbors with the university, which influences the perspectives of our residents. When they come to live at Clark Lindsey, they’re coming in with preset beliefs around technology. And by that, I mean our residents are willing, are more willing to try new things, learn about new technologies and support the research around developing new technology in general. Which in turn influences the philosophy that we can use to design our programming. For example, one piece that we’ve implemented a couple of years ago now is our Innovation Suite. We use one of our guest suites on our campus and in it we’ve installed a number of lifestyle and home automation technologies to create a welcoming and really non-intimidating space for residents to play with new technologies, to experience them in a home-like environment, to see how those technologies might improve their lives.
So this space pre-COVID is still a functioning guest suite. So families can experience the technologies and see how some of those technologies might benefit their loved one or even themselves. We also have a satellite university research lab called Collaborations in Health Aging Research Technology, or CHART. It’s a one bedroom apartment that we rent to the university, and residents and community members can come in and participate in research around technology and aging right here on our campus. Because driving to campus and finding parking on campus is overwhelming for me, let alone anyone who might be challenged with driving and vision and things like that. We host a Masters in Health Technology, Capstone Project this fall that we’ll be working on fall prevention technologies and passive sensors in our skilled care setting. So overall technology is so invasive in our community from digital signage, and right when you walk in the door you sign in with an automated kiosk, and we have our portal kiosk stations throughout. It’s really hard to ignore how prevalent technology is at our campus.
Yeah. I mean that’s incredible. I think listeners are going to be very interested in hearing how you got to that point. It’s so multifaceted, so ingrained in your community, and so visible throughout. You also have, and maybe you can speak a little bit to this Laura, you also have a resident support program in place, to help the residents basically thrive using the technology that’s available to them. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
So about 15 years ago before my time, we started a weekly tech help program with student volunteers on Friday afternoons from three to 4:00 PM. It would only happen during the school year, and it excluded any holiday breaks. So the month that they take off in the winter. and the weeks of spring break. and summer was off. And that really fit the needs of the residents at the time. Anything over and beyond that they would call a local company in if it was something really drastic. But a lot of the things were issues that our receptionists could fix or our Activities Director could help with. And about eight years ago, we noticed needs started advancing. And we played around with having our managed service provider at the time provide resident tech help. And after trying that, they told us, ‘no thank you.’
That’s when we learned that it takes a special person to have the empathy and patience to be doing resident tech help. So around five years ago, we explored hiring our own resident tech help assistant. We shared an employee with the local park district to do this, and we learned a lot through that process. This person got quickly involved in other projects, committees, and other initiatives that were loosely related to technology, but sometimes it was a little bit of a stretch. So what this meant for residents was less availability for that one-on-one tech help that was truly needed. So today we use Parasol’s Tech at Home, which has allowed us that structure we needed to provide the services residents need in a way that made the most sense for us as an organization.
Right. We heard loud and clear from our residents that the way that we were doing things wasn’t working. That they needed a dedicated person with specific hours, days, and times that they would know that they could rely on somebody to respond to a request. So when our previous tech help assistant was getting pulled in all sorts of different directions to manage other types of initiatives, that support wasn’t there. And we heard about it. So that made it evident. We really needed that person who was devoted solely to that one-on-one tech help with the residents.
So Laura, I’m sure that our listeners probably have two questions that they’re thinking of as you’re describing this dedicated tech support. One question is, how do you pay for this? So what is the return on investment? Are you charging residents for this? If you’re willing to share any information on that? I’m sure that’s a big question listeners have. And then secondly, how are you, or are you incorporating this into any of your marketing materials? Are you using this to be competitive or to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
Definitely. So to start with, how do we pay for this? Yes, we do charge residents for the one-on-one support services, and we aim for a majority of the Tech at Home Program to be paid for by resident hourly tech support fees. That’s our goal. But we do budget appropriately for additional hours because we have our Tech at Home technician doing things like leading classes, which ultimately benefit our operations of how we use the technologies that we’ve implemented such as our portal, our engagement portal. So using the portal impacts our operations. And if our residents are using the portal efficiently, then that benefits us as an organization overall. So we do budget for additional hours that can be spent on those group classes and a little bit of portal management, portal education and things like that. We also think that it’s really worth it because we’re investing in our future. To your question on the marketing piece of things, we know that the residents of the future expect these sorts of things. So we know by investing in these, we’re investing in ourselves and the potential for a prospect to choose us over a competitor because we are with it in terms of technology.
Well, I love that. And I think that I can see how that would clearly differentiate your community and be a huge support for residents as they’re considering their options. Now, we know the menu of options for older adults is much greater. So I’m curious about, I’m thinking about the process and kind of our listeners, I think are probably going to want to, they’re probably thinking ‘this is very attractive,’ like to have this culture of innovation, like I’d love to have something like that in our community. But the steps in getting to that point may vary based on where the community is currently at. You know, some communities might be a little further or behind in the process. Can you describe some of the steps that you took to maybe initially just get buy-in in this direction before, as you developed this kind of strategy and supporting programming?
So the first and most important piece I believe is the top leadership buy-in. So there needs to be a hundred percent buy-in enthusiastic support from the top leadership and the supporters of the strategic plan and the technologies, or technology services that the organization is wanting to implement. Then beyond that, finding the right partner and or vendor, who’s going to be implementing these technologies with you. We’ve had our fair share of both good and bad experiences with vendors, whether or not they really get it and can fulfill what they say that they will and meet our expectations as an organization with fairly high standards for how we believe a technology should work. And then beyond that, getting the residents involved early. So we have residents involved in even the selection process of technology. So when we are looking at resident engagement portals, we had a resident on that selection.
We actually had two residents on that selection committee with us, and we were strategic about the two residents that we picked. We picked one who was our most tech advanced resident we could think of that was asking for this sort of technology, who was wanting to put in their work orders themselves and order dinner delivery to their room without having to make a phone call, and be able to look up a directory of residents. All those things that the portal would do. And then we selected a resident who describes herself as a ‘technology neanderthal.’ And we had them both sitting at the table with us as we were looking at different options for an engagement portal. And then those residents, even our Neanderthal became one of our coaches and helped to roll out the portal to other residents. And when other residents knew that this resident who usually is anti-technology is standing behind this, that was huge. So I think in some ways it’s a natural instinct to, ‘oh, let’s pick our most tech proficient residents to be a part of this,’ but to really intentionally pick at least one resident who is anti-technology to sit on those teams with you.
Changing topics a little bit, Laura, I wanted to touch on another project we’re currently working on, which is your campus expansion project. Given Clark Lindsey has such an innovative culture of technology. We’ve been having conversations about, ‘what does this look like’ for your new buildings that you’re working on right now? And I know you and I have had multiple conversations about some of the frustrations we’ve experienced, you know, specifically looking at how can some of these low voltage systems for the residents specifically when it comes to life safety systems, be more of a concierge feel? I know specifically we’ve had this conversation about traditional nurse call systems. So why do they look like they were made in 1980? Why can’t pendants look like Apple watches? Why do the devices that go on the wall look like they’re from 1970?
These big plastic, not attractive devices. And we worked together trying to talk to vendors, trying to find and find innovative solutions. And it’s very frustrating that there hasn’t been a lot of change in this area. I want to hear from your perspective, what are your thoughts on, what do you think that the future is and how can the industry innovate a little bit more on this and what are the needs? What are you hearing from your leadership team at Clark Lindsey and from the residents? What is really the future of resident technology, both from supporting the residents, innovating and kind of what you envision or what the leadership team at Clark Lindsey has envisioned for the future?
You’re right, Amber. It is incredibly frustrating to meet with vendors and look at their products and what they’re offering. I would never want to wear any of these devices that they’re trying to sell us. These wearable pendants that are truly straight from the seventies. They’re horrible. And when we ask, because we’re fairly vocal, when we talk to these vendors and say, ‘why is your equipment so ugly? And they are clueless. They don’t even know that their equipment is horrible looking. And it all comes back to dignity for our residents. If I wouldn’t want to wear this around my friends and family, why would we expect our residents to? So the more that we speak up as an industry on these things, that these are not meeting expectations. So the next time any of your listeners are meeting with a vendor, be really honest about this is not meeting expectations.
The more that they hear that the more it might actually sink in that they need to change what they’re doing. And especially a lot of the big players in emergency response, I’m really disappointed in what’s out there. And you would think as the biggest players, that they would be embracing some innovation and some modern design for their devices they’re offering. So off of that tangent, our vision for our new expansion is complicated because we are balancing out the cost of what our dream is, to the reality of what makes sense financially for this massive project. So yes, in the perfect world, we want every apartment to be completely covered in home automation technologies, and concierge innovations for emergency call. And we struggle with the market not being able to offer solutions to us that makes sense. So when we talk to a nurse call vendor that checks the boxes in this column, they completely miss what we want in our innovation and automation column.
So to find that ‘do it all’ vendor is tough. And when you have to piece together multiple vendors to try to make a solution work, you’re making it so much more complicated for the person who has to manage those technologies and for the resident. Especially if they are technologies that the resident has to be engaged with to actually have that technology work, it gets complicated really fast. And I can honestly say it’s fairly frustrating at the moment. And I will be curious to see how things shake out for us when these buildings are complete. I’m hoping, fingers crossed, that maybe a vendor will come through that says, ‘we do it all,’ but we have really high expectations for our vendors that we work with. And I think that’s our biggest challenge right now.
Wow. Yeah. That’s really interesting. And thank you for sharing that perspective. I think that’s so real. I would imagine there’s probably a lot of nodding heads from listeners as they’re kind of hearing your experience. Amber, I’m curious from your perspective in the work that you’ve done, that we’ve done, the conversations we’ve had with clients and communities. What are you seeing as far as gaps in resident technology planning?
I think that often communities can go about it somewhat piecemeal. So they may come across a product that may be very intriguing or interesting to them and decide to implement that product without perhaps considering the implications of that, or ensuring that they have the right stakeholder buy-in, the right project champions, or the right infrastructure in place to support that product. You know, one of the things we hear over and over again is that they didn’t have probably two major things that may have led to lack of success would be project champions. So maybe they were able to get a project implemented, but then they didn’t identify the right support and ongoing maintenance of the data in that system, or making sure that they had the right support team to make sure that the residents had, the ongoing training and knowledge to continue using that product where the data was continuously put into the product to make sure that it was usable.
And then again, infrastructure. So we’ve talked a lot about wifi on other episodes. If a product is heavily reliant on wifi and there isn’t wifi throughout the building, then there can be frustration. That this, maybe this app doesn’t work, or smart home feature doesn’t work. And really it’s because there’s inadequate wifi to support it. And then that can lead to a lot of frustration and then possibly abandonment of that product. So I would say as much as possible, we always talk about strategic planning here, but having really that comprehensive plan of knowing what are the pieces that need to happen, understanding the comprehensive approach and plan, making sure the right stakeholders and people are involved, and then understanding the full implications in the project life cycle, including post implementation support and ongoing training.
All right. Great. Well, let’s close it out with a final question. So, because we have listeners of various backgrounds, size of organizations. If you could give a piece of advice to an operator who is beginning this journey, or maybe they’re at some point in the journey, but maybe haven’t achieved their full vision. What advice would you give a listener who’s exploring a creative solution to meet their resident technology needs?
I think the biggest piece of advice that I would give to another operator is that you cannot underestimate the importance and the value of one-on-one dedicated resident tech support. We’ve tried lots of different options and we have not found a better way to ensure success of the adoption of technologies on our campus than through that one-on-one dedicated resident tech support.
Great. Thank you. Thank you so much, Laura. What about Amber? Anything else kind of in closing that you would give as far as advice for listeners?
Again, I would just circle back to just understanding the role of technology in your community. Who are the right players and the right stakeholders? And understanding where do all of the different components of technology, whether we’re talking about infrastructure, resident engagement, apps, smart homes, making sure that you have the right support pieces and resources needed in place to make sure that you can be successful.
All right. So Laura, what excites you most about the future of senior living as it relates to resident technology?
I’d have to say automation. The staffing crisis we’re in right now is terrifying. And one thing that gives me hope is around automation technologies. So how we can have the people do the people things, the necessary human tasks, and replace the non-necessary with automation. So whether that’s something like vacuuming, and cleaning the floors, and how we can use more automation in how we’ve gone from having a person sitting at a desk for our COVID screening to automation. Where when we struggle with staffing, we need a person to be providing care. We don’t need a person sitting at a desk checking people’s temperatures. So that is the piece that gives me hope as every day, we are challenged with these staffing issues, and we know that we’re not alone. We know that nearly every industry is struggling with this. And in order for automation to be successful, resident proficiency with technology and their comfort and openness to using technology is essential for the success of those sorts of technologies. So overall I’d say automation, it gives me the most hope for the future of senior living.
All right. Well, thank you. Thank you both. This was a great conversation. Laura, I imagine there’s going to be listeners who may want to find out more about what all you have going on at Clark Lindsey, and perhaps even reach out and pick your brain. How can people find out more about Clark Lindsey?
You can give us a call, go to our website. You can email me if you call us our number is (217) 344-2144. And you can ask for Laura Edwards. My email is LEdwards@clark-lindsey.com. And our website is Clark-Lindsey.com.
All right, thank you so much. And we can always link that information in the show notes too, information so people can easily find you and your community. So I think that’s a wrap for today. Thank you everybody for listening to another episode of Raising Tech. And thank you, Laura Edwards, our guest. We were so enjoyed having you and having this conversation. Amber, thank you again, and be sure to tune in next month for part two of all things resident technology, where we’ll be talking with another community to learn more about their unique approach to resident technology planning. All right, we look forward to catching up with everyone next month.