Technology Can Protect Residents, Provide Programming During Pandemic, Say SHB Webinar Panelists

With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing seniors housing residents to physically isolate from each other, technology may be the key to preventing both further virus spread and social isolation.

“Senior living communities have for decades used a platform of pull cords, call buttons and pendants,” said David Wardlaw, vice president of business development for digital health solutions at Philips. “This technology cannot support more infection control requirements. It is not equipped to slow down the spread of COVID-19.”

New technology to better stop the spread of coronavirus includes wearable bracelets that will aid in measuring exercise, “geofencing” residents into certain areas and tracing who an infected resident has come into contact with, Wardlaw added.

A slide by moderator David Wardlaw, not pictured, shows how technology can aid in contact tracing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Looking on are the webinar panelists, from top, Nancy Swanger, Stephanie Harris and Meredith Mills. (Click to view larger)

The comments came on a June 3 webinar entitled “Safeguarding Residents and Caregivers During COVID-19: Technologies that Prevent Infectious Disease Spread.” Sponsored by Philips, the event drew 526 registrants.

Panelists on the webinar included Nancy Swanger, associate dean and founding director of the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living, within the hospitality school of Washington State University; Stephanie Harris, CEO and principal with Arrow Senior Living, which operates 30 communities; and Meredith Mills, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Country Meadows Retirement Communities, which has 2,500 residents.

Harris said that Arrow quickly needed to step up its digital interactions with residents who were isolated in March.

“Our communication has just gotten better, and we found operational improvements,” said Harris. “There are some strong silver linings here. We are going to learn as an industry.”

Similarly, Mills said Country Meadows promised its residents and their families “complete transparency and frequent communication.”

Swanger added that the changes as a result of the pandemic have created new industry-wide standards.

“I don’t think we should wait for a crisis. We had to, out of sheer desperation, create some new best practices. I’m hoping those new practices will continue.”

Some of those best practices include using telehealth solutions to avoid unnecessary trips to hospitals and medical specialists. Additionally, operators have been forced to have strong Wi-Fi signal throughout the community and provide internet-based programming, to keep residents isolated but still social and entertained.

Swanger concluded that, moving forward, telehealth will be “part of the norm,” as well as no-contact payment options as opposed to writing checks.

To view the full webinar, click here.

— Jeff Shaw