With senior living new construction back on the rise in 2022, it is more important than ever to keep pace with the rising demand for technology innovation sparked by the pandemic. Having a defined technology roadmap integrated into new construction planning from Day 1 is crucial for the backbone of a fully integrated and operational community.
In this episode of Raising Tech, our host Amber Bardon sits down with Greg Hunteman (President) and Sam Swinbank (Director of Engineering) of Pi Architects. They discuss all things technology in new construction, spanning from when to begin planning for technology needs, core considerations, to the latest innovative trends to consider for a rising number of tech-savvy older adults. Most importantly, how do all these items tie together to empower communities to enhance their services and optimize staff and resident wellbeing.
Welcome to Raising Tech, a podcast about all things technology and senior living. I’m your host, Amber Bardon and today I’m joined by two guests from Pi Architects, Greg Hunteman, and Sam Swinbank. Greg and Sam, we’ve had a lot of conversations about our topic today, which is technology innovation and new construction and I feel like each time we get on a call, we could just keep discussing topic for hours. It’s really interesting. And there’s so much opportunity in this market right now. But before we get started, could you go ahead and introduce yourselves to our audience and tell us a little bit about yourself and about Pie?
Yeah. Thank you Amber it’s great to be here we really appreciate the opportunity. I’m Greg Hunteman. I’m President of Pie architects. Our company focuses on all types of senior living. Active adult all the way down to hospice and nursing. So a little bit of everything. CCRCs and repositioning renovations. We’ve really been blessed to have a variety of clients that have actually allowed us to kind of add services. So we do the architecture, the interiors, the landscape, the planning, and recently the past couple years have added low voltage to improve the services that we provide.
And good to talk with you, Amber. I’m Sam Swinbank, Director of Engineering at Pie Architects. I’m licensed as a professional engineer to practice electrical and low voltage engineering.
Thanks for the introduction and that background about Pie to start with, let’s talk about some number in terms of how much growth and new business is being developed right now with new construction. Can you give us some context about the opportunities that are out there?
Greg Hunteman 01:53
Yeah, it’s really picked up. It was a little slow through COVID. You know, the banks were a little slower, but really in a weird way, the IT kind of did not really pause. The desire to connect with people remotely, really amped up the marketability whether they’re trying to continue to fill up or maintain occupancy in existing building or the blue sky side of it. So really amping that up as it’s harder for families to get into the communities on the marketing side. So in a weird way, the IT didn’t quite take the hit that I would say the new construction and significant repositionings have taken it. So really in the past, say two, three months, we’ve really seen a lot of positive movement on the new projects that have kicked off numerous projects in several states where we’re really starting to really think through how we’re doing because the cost of construction ha has grown so much and the cost of land and staff and everything that really we’re having really start thinking even deeper about, what we’re doing, how we’reproviding the services to the residents, the construction costs.
Greg Hunteman 02:53
How do we, how do we try to mitigate that a little bit, but in a weird way, it is kind of the new norm. So I think people are starting to realize, “hey, you know, things, aren’t gonna go down a whole lot,” inflation is obviously kind of here. So what can we do to, you know, provide the greatest success in the new communities that we’re doing and control the costs both in the operations and the staffing and the new development in construction.
So it sounds like what you’re saying is we’re really seeing an explosion of need in housing services in the marketplace today. And what people are looking for now is very different than in the last 20 years or so. Greg and Sam, what are you seeing as the top needs in new buildings That’s different than in the past.
Greg Hunteman 03:40
Really it’s the social integration. People are realizing through COVID that the wellness of the residents is critical and being isolated and not integrated, and really I think that’s what I think brings most of the residents to the communities and now to their houses. They really need that socialization, the integration with other folks. Numerous studies are starting to show that the lifestyle, the social engagement that people have is just as critical as the genetics. And that’s something relatively new I’d say from that standpoint. And really it improves their satisfaction. It improves them inviting their families and friends into the communities, so I think that’s super critical in how we’re doing it and that engagement can be done in so many different ways. It can be done in the kind of video engagement that we do with signage. It can be done as applications. We’re doing a lot more working with apps and how they integrate with residents. The biggest challenge is more of an active adult independent living community that is low staffing, but they want to feel like they have a higher touch, but then the privacy aspects of being in their unit. So it continues to evolve. The residents are just wanting a lot more than they used to. So a lot more expectations.
So we’re seeing a lot of innovation, a lot of news systems, a lot more focus on the resident experience, especially when it comes to technology. However, there still are core systems that are expected and need to be installed and maintained as part of these projects, things like emergency response, door access, et cetera. And from my experience, it feels like there’s not been a lot of innovation in those areas and in those types of systems, and that can feel really frustrating. For example, you’re building this beautiful new building, and then you’re putting a nurse call wall unit that looks like it’s from 1970, it’s plastic, it’s yellow. The pendants are still just unappealing. What are your thoughts on why hasn’t this technology evolved more or to look like a Fitbit or an Apple watch, or why hasn’t the design of that technology kept pace with innovation in other areas?
So I think the biggest challenge is we’ve seen lots of devices kind of come through the system where they’re really cool. They look really interesting, but I think the problem is that the devices improve so quickly, whereas the technology and the integration of that technology, that evolves so quickly as well. So right now, I think we’re going to get to the point where I think they’re just gonna start using the Apple watches. They’re going to start using the different devices that we’re using in every day life and can try to do more interconnectivity with it. We’re involved with Ziegler’s linkage group, which is kind of interesting. They’re doing a lot more of kind of investing in the different companies that they see are going to provide those future devices, the future just technologies, whether it be software or hardware to folks. And it’s been fun to be a part of that, to see it very early in its advancement. K4 was one of the big ones that they kind of were able to look at to Care Merge as well.
So it’s been fun to be a part of that. And then through that, they’ve also brought in a lot of futurists, I guess you could say that are really anticipating where we’re going. The challenge is going to be creating just a very good backbone in the community. Sam has got some great things that he’s done with residents so that he can develop this backbone that’s not just for today’s technology and interfaces, but what can we do that is going to give them that 10 year longevity, we know at some point it’s gonna have to be improved, but how do we do that?
Amber Bardon 07:18
Sam, from your engineering perspective, what do you see are the biggest areas of opportunity when it comes to innovation in technology and new construction?
Sam Swinbank 07:27
One of the big new opportunities is that technology has finally evolved to the point where it can increase resident wellness and resident satisfaction without requiring more touch from staff. Software platforms that we discuss on our regular calls like K4Connect and Care Merge, and Caspar are using artificial intelligence and knitting together ‘internet of things’ devices like relatively new smart switches that have integral motion sensing for instance, to create reporting on whether a resident is moving about an apartment normally, and whether they’ve fallen. If a resident and a family opt in an adult child at their own home, can discreetly check in with the software platform to see how their parents are doing, including how they slept last night, all without additional staffing. To me, that feels like a significant new opportunity.
Greg Hunteman 08:16
Yeah. And then the good thing I think about that is that they’re not waking the resident in the evenings when they check on them. So I think there’s other upsides to this that maybe aren’t completely understood or intended that they found.
Amber Bardon 08:28
Do you think that the market is in a place now where potential future residents are actually actively looking for this type of technology to be in place when they’re selecting, where they’re going to move into, or how are you seeing those trends in the marketplace?
Sam Swinbank 08:42
That’s the interesting thing. We have some clients that look at providing it for everybody, and it’s just kind of in the base cost. We have other clients that are looking at it as more of a value add, they kind of separate the costs out for the people that maybe see the opportunities there, or maybe they don’t think they need it initially, but then they start seeing their friends use it. Especially as there’s more risk of fall and stuff like that. I think that as we have the evolution, as more communities are providing this that there’s gonna be more of a I guess requirements maybe the right word to, a request and an integration of it. Ironically, it helps staffing. It helps so many other ways that they’re, they’re running the communities to be efficient. I think it’s gonna be here to stay. There’s a whole robot thing, which is a whole nother integration here, which we’re gonna see. How do you do the charging points for the robots? How do they navigate the communities? They have cleaning robots now. There’s gonna be a time when everybody has a robot friend. I know it sounds silly, but it’ll be fun to watch and see what happens.
Amber Bardon 09:48
It’s really interesting, exciting to think that in the future, not too far off, that people may be basing their decision on where they’re going to move into based on these technology features that are available in the communities. It’s pretty exciting that that’s gonna be our new reality. Talking about all these new and innovating ideas is really exciting, but let’s just take a step back for a moment and talk about what are some of the basic considerations you need to have when it comes to including technology in your design. Our company, Parasol Alliance has done multiple projects where we worked very closely with our clients on new construction or renovation. And we’ve actually come up with a checklist to walk them through multiple decision points and areas to think about when we’re brought into a new project. One thing that we often see is just a lack of a comprehensive attack plan on who is managing what part of the project in relation to technology, especially around things like low voltage network design and business requirements, and we’ve added this step of gathering client requirements up ahead of time.
Amber Bardon 10:48
So that we’re all working off of the same page. There’s no assumptions made. Or if there are assumptions that we’re testing those, or we’re finding anything that’s been missed. Based on our past project experiences and some lessons learned, some of the things that we like our clients to think about ahead of time are things like security decisions. These are things that we want people to think about before we even get to the actual type of system we’re going to use, or the counts, the number of cameras. For example, do you want and have cameras in the buildings or just on external doors? Do you want to have them in staff areas in resident areas? Those types of answers to those questions is going to all feed into the overall technology design. Wifi is another area that we see a lot of assumptions made that may not line up with the client expectations.
Amber Bardon 11:36
All of the technology we’re talking about today really relies on having a really robust wall to wall wifi coverage. But often that step in the design can get missed or be an afterthought, or again, maybe there’s some assumptions made without actually having a real heat map design that will provide and guarantee that wall to wall coverage. Another example is thinking of things like, do you want to have smart homes like Sam was talking about with the smart switches? And if you do, you can bring in a company like K4 to help with the actual electric electrical design up front to make sure that the design is optimized for those types of systems.
Another thing to think about if you have existing buildings, are you planning to extend those systems or is this an opportunity to possibly select new systems and then retrofit those back into your other buildings? Greg and Sam, where do you see technology playing the most valuable role in these types of projects, And what do you think is the optimal timeframe for technology to be involved in projects?
Yeah, we really want to start from day one. I mean, when we start planning and programming the building, we really want to think through everything. We want to figure out how we have the connectivity, not just of the building spaces but of the technology and how it flows through a building. When you come in, how do you feel, how are you connected to it? Are you seeing the digital signage like we talked to? Does the staff have what they need in order to greet you and understand you? Are there ways that they know who’s gonna come to the community, if it’s a new prospective resident and they know, “Hey, Ms. Green, great to see you excited that you’re, you know, touring our community. I think you’ll really enjoy such and such..” Because there’s a prep and they know that green loves gardening. So they can work through that. There’s different ways that can integrate that. But then as they work into the community, you can sell the smart home technology. You can sell the socialization, the clubs, and the way to connect to everything.
So it sounds like your advice is to get technology involved as soon as possible, which I agree with. As we all know, to go back and try to add technology after the fact is always going to be more expensive. So the design phase or the initial phase is really the best time to get technology involved. Sam, what would you say that communities should know or consider when it comes to technology before starting their planning?
Sam Swinbank 13:52
These days with increased adoption of technology. It’s important to think about what we informally call the backbone, the data backbone of the building. How is data going to move around from computer room to computer room, to wireless access points, and through a robust wifi network to get to the resident? It’s important to think in the early stages of planning, how you’re going to accommodate a wide data backbone for these buildings with increased technology.
Greg Hunteman 14:22
And then when you’re looking at that, we have the interconnectivity, everybody thinks of the inside of the building, but how are we going to do the connectivity on the outside the building? How are we going to allow the residents to enjoy the exterior spaces? Right. It used to be that we’d be stuck in our room with our computer connected to the wall. Now we can take our device anywhere. We can go be in the pub and enjoying a drink with friends, or we can sit on our favorite veranda for a little bit more quiet space. So I think that’s important. There’s other ways that people are looking at kind of monitoring residents so that they’re not stuck at the door, but maybe there’s a little bit more of a mesh where they can actually go outside and enjoy the front of a building or some other areas a little bit more to provide a little bit more of the preferences, let’s not try to control people so much. So what can we do to give them greater flexibility?
Amber Bardon 15:14:
Greg and Sam let’s tie this all together. Walk me through how you envision this technology experience to be in a new building. Let’s say we have no limit on our budget. We’ve got all the options that’s built into the building. What would this experience actually be like for a resident?
Well, I guess you kind of want it to be as personalized as possible, right? So from the moment a resident, a prospective resident walks in the door, we talked about how they could be engaged, but from the resident perspective, as they wake up, what kind of music do they like to listen to? How do they like to be greeted? How do they let the staff know that they are there as technology just, let them know, “hey, they got up, how well do they sleep?” You have the wellness devices that are kicking into say, “Hey, Ms. Green’s doing great today.” Or “I sense, there’s something off in her balance, maybe we need to give her X this type of food or whatever. So how do we get all of the different services that we already provide and really amplify and improve the integration to the resident lifestyle?
Greg Hunteman 16:10
Then once they leave how is Alexa reminding them of the different activities that there are today? Or how do you integrate in a way that they’re friends, they’re not just a device that’s kind of stagnant? The TV’s actually displaying it as well? How does the TV system integrate with the overall I guess lifestyle integration, might be a way of putting it. How do they do that once they get to the hallway? What kind of artwork are they seeing? Is the artwork actually changing? Is there a gallery they can go to when they go to the cafe and have breakfasts with their friends? What kind of music’s playing? What are they seeing on the TVs and the walls? Is there different rooms that actually play towards different types of experiences people want. Do people want more of a pub environment, a cafe environment?
Greg Hunteman 17:04
We’re doing a lot more conservator where it’s an outdoor environment that’s actually inside and controlled. How do they do that and then still have access to their devices? Through the day, do they integrate the lighting that actually changes the temperature where that actually helps with their sleep pattern? So that’s been proven new very well in memory care communities. It can be a little expensive, but the newer technologies are getting better at how they do that. And so now your body’s just going through the natural cycle a little bit better if they’re not able to go outside and get that 20 minutes of sun, which really helps kind of work with their biological clock. So how do you do that? So that there’s a more seamless, comfortable day cycle, I guess you could say, but then not the sameness of everything. How do we do it so it’s actually broken up?
Greg Huteman 17:54
Because I think what we find in these communities is that they’re just, nobody wants to go to the same place every day. I know in a house to a certain extent you do, but when you go outside of your house, you want a variety of options. It sounds silly, but you may actually want to go to the same place every day, but you want to know that you could have gone to a different place, if that makes any sense. And then obviously with the seasons, how do you integrate that? So I think just kind of a seamless cycle where it feels a little bit more catered, but then in a weird way, not to perfect. That’s where they were, that’s where the matrix went wrong. Right? So that’s what you’re trying to figure out is how do you get that balance? And each person’s going to be different. I mean that’s what’s going to make it so challenging.
Sam, what are your thoughts?
Sam Swinkbank 18:41
Baby boomers, the silver tsunami, they’re heading our way towards senior living. And they’re largely not in the product yet. And baby boomers are largely adopting technology. They have a smartphone and many baby boomers have at least one wearable whether it’s a Fitbit or an Apple watch, or even an Ora ring. And so baby boomers are accustomed to technology and they’re going to expect it in this next senior living environment, hopefully in a way that mimics their nice homes, where they’re coming from. Inside an apartment smart home devices, like an Amazon Alexa paired with a smart thermostat, smart light bulbs, and even smart blinds will give this feature resident more control of their home independently.
Amber Bardon 19:25
That all sounds really exciting. This has been a really fascinating discussion. This is one of my favorite topics. Is there anything else you would like our listeners to know or you think they should know?
Well, I think the biggest opportunity we have in senior living is how we integrate wellness. I know it’s kind of weird to maybe bring that directly into the technology side, but I think that’s the biggest thing. I mean, people are wanting to move into our communities because they’re going live longer and better. And so how do we do that? How do we prove that out? And so this really has an opportunity to directly connect them on the social side, letting the staff bring things to them. There’s really fun ways where you can do different activities and compete, kind of virtual competitions that you have. Where it’s challenging people on health mind challenges. There’s so many different things you can do. So I think as we start these projects and we talk about the building programming, we talk about the IT programming.
Greg Hunteman 20:29
We also want to talk about the branding, how they integrate wellness, how they market it, how we really integrate it. Because with all these things, if we don’t have a champion that’s encouraging it and integrating it into the community, then it’s not gonna get used. I want to maximize the opportunity and the usefulness of what we provide there so that it’s done in a way that makes sense. We have the people in the communities that are really promoting it. We have the people that understand it. So training’s really big. And sometimes training might just be the way to use it the most efficiently. How can they use it to make it easier and better so that if we can give the staff more and what they’re doing, and then also give them more time to spend with the residents is kind of a win-win. Because the staff here they’re really doing it cuz they love the residents and they love what they’re doing primarily. Because there’s a lot of choices they have.
Sam, any additional thoughts you wanna add before we wrap up today?
Our advice having seen this many times would be to plan for our robust data backbone. You can in a way, futureproof your building by allowing large amounts of data to move throughout. Our other key point of advice would be to bring your IT and low voltage teams into projects as early as possible. And let your architects know if we can help.
Amber Bardon 21:41
Thank you so much for listening today. Thank you, Greg and Sam for being on the podcast today, really enjoyed our conversation and be sure to tune in next month for new topics.