As chief information officer of Brookdale Senior Living and technology chair of the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA), Scott Ranson spends a lot of time thinking and talking about using technology to enrich the lives of seniors. So does Sarah Hoit, CEO and founder of ConnectedLiving, a company committed to transforming the experience of aging through technology access.
As a result, it made perfect sense for Ranson and Hoit to team up on a large-scale initiative to provide residents of Brookdale Senior Living communities across the country with access to online resources, services and social networking opportunities.
“Our ‘high-touch’ approach of combining simplified technology with training and support ensures that new technology is adopted, usage is sustained and all the benefits of leading a connected life become a reality,” Hoit says.
About five years ago, they piloted a program in one of Brookdale’s independent living communities in Massachusetts, using ConnectedLiving’s certified ambassadors to educate and engage seniors in online activities. Pleased with the residents’ enthusiastic response, Ranson soon expanded the program to nine Chicago-area communities.
The Economics of Expansion
Despite his eagerness to launch the program on a broader scale, Ranson had several wrinkles to iron out first — including the economics.
“I knew ConnectedLiving wouldn’t supply computers, training and support services for free,” he says. “And I knew we needed a nice environment for using the technology.”
Working with Brookdale’s in-house interior designers, he created an internet café model featuring a senior-friendly environment with specially designed computer desks that comfortably accommodated wheelchairs and walkers and even included hooks for hanging a cane. He and his team then determined the amount of capital investment required to build the internet cafés and how to fund the operating expenses.
In addition, Ranson recognized the critical importance of ensuring that the technology remained reliably up and running. “The last thing you want is malfunctioning computers in an internet café. People will lose interest really quickly,” he says.
To avoid burdening his already busy in-house help desk with additional support responsibility, Ranson decided the smartest strategy was to lease the hardware and back it with a maintenance contract.
“That way, we have a support model where the ConnectedLiving Ambassadors, who are helping the residents use the equipment, are empowered to call for service when necessary,” he says. “And it allows us to get new replacement equipment in three years without a major capital outlay.”
Getting the Right Tools and the Right Support
The first phase of the expanded rollout involved building and equipping cafés in 45 communities across the country within a year, with up to another 60 planned for the second phase. Ranson credited teamwork for the successful large-scale launch.
For each community, ConnectedLiving coordinated with its technology partner CDW Healthcare to provide standardized internet café setups, which included HP desktops, touchscreen monitors, tablets, large-print keyboards, printers, web cameras and handheld digital cameras.
“The touchscreen monitors provide the hardware for our interactive digital displays, which present community news, menus, calendar events and more. We also implement headsets with the web cameras to help facilitate online video chat,” Hoit says.
CDW Healthcare not only configured all the hardware and delivered it to the designated locations but also played an instrumental role in implementing wireless networks in more than 500 Brookdale communities, laying an invaluable foundation for the eventual nationwide rollout of the ConnectedLiving technology.
“The strong partnership between our three companies has been integral to implementing ConnectedLiving as we roll out new communities each week,” Hoit says. “In the 21st century, connectivity is a must-have, and we love working with partners who understand the gravity of this issue and work with us every day to make a difference.”