Headshot_Chris_Becker_302Interview with Chris Becker, CIO, Shelter Group

Baby Boomers and their families are increasingly coming to expect senior care communities to provide mobile devices and wireless access for resident use and to offer support for resident technology. As a result, communities are increasingly investing in technology to keep residents and their visiting family members connected.

So what are the biggest challenges to implement resident mobility? How do you address corresponding wireless needs and security considerations? And what are the greatest gains for communities in offering mobile devices and access for residents? In this PeerView, Shelter Group CIO Chris Becker discusses his experience and insights on adopting and managing resident mobile technology.

For the past 30 years, the Shelter Group has operated over 80 multifamily and senior living communities, including vibrant independent living, assisted living and memory care facilities, under the Brightview Senior Living, Park View and Shelter Properties brands. Chris and his team manage the strategy and execution of all IT operations including the effective delivery of networks, applications and technology support systems and processes for all Shelter Group locations.

CDW: What types of technology do you currently have in place in your communities, both for residents and for staff? What new technology are you considering?

CHRIS: For staff we have a fairly large suite of smartphones for our directors onsite, used primarily for communication among themselves and with the home office. We also use tablets for resident and memory care, and for use by our activities staff. The tablets are used for brain fitness and to show residents opportunities to stay connected to their families; for example, posting and messaging on Facebook. In terms of new technology, we’re doing pilots with several companies now for resident mobility. One thing we’re looking into is providing a turnkey device to residents as they come into the community.

CDW: What benefits do you see in offering and supporting mobile devices for residents?

CHRIS: Portable devices are an enjoyable way for seniors to read and talk about their interests online, shop, catch up on the news, engage in self-improvement and brain fitness activities, and stay connected to their families and friends. The benefits tie to the same reasons everyone uses technology. Technology makes us happy. People use their mobile devices for everyday life these days as well as enjoyment. And there’s no reason why seniors shouldn’t have those options, or at least be educated to know that they exist.

One of our Vibrant Living staff told me a story the other day about a resident who really had no prior experience going online. The staff member said, “Well, let me just show you.” So she went over and pulled up Amazon and said, “So what do you want to shop for today? Let’s shop for a new purse.” And the resident was absolutely amazed at what she could do on Amazon. The staff member almost had tears in her eyes telling me this. She said, “You know what? It took me five minutes to make such a difference in this lady’s life — that she can shop now. She’s been shopping all her life, and currently doesn’t have the ability to go out to the mall. Through technology, she just found a way to go to the mall and shop.”

CDW: How are you taking security into consideration at Shelter Group when you’re thinking about new devices and access?

CHRIS: Since we’re a healthcare organization, we have to be concerned with security. We’re always thinking about HIPAA compliance. We do not allow BYOD; all our devices are corporate-owned for our associates. We control every device via strict mobile device management (MDM), so we can wipe or reset devices as needed. On the Wi-Fi side, we have both a guest network and a corporate network. Our guest network requires a login and password, and the corporate network has high security and requires authorized access.

CDW: What are your biggest challenges in adopting resident mobile technology and Internet access?

CHRIS: Our associates and our senior leadership understand the benefits that mobile technology provides. It really is not a difficult conversation to get invested in mobile devices. There are challenges in finding the right product. There’s so much technology that does so well and then there’s a lot that doesn’t do so well. So we’re splitting that apart. But the other thing is that I think we need to take time one on one to introduce residents to mobile devices and what they can do. In terms of wireless access, we’ve been putting “whole house” Wi-Fi in all of our buildings for the past four years, and we’re completing that process over the next few years. Every community wants it — they want to use it for everything from associate and resident communication to marketing. It will happen, but it will just take some time.

CDW: As you’ve added more technology and upgraded your networks, how has it affected your need for internal staff resources?

CHRIS: We are now managing a fleet of up to 650 mobile devices, and that’s turned out to be almost a full-time job. When you get behind in managing devices, billing and inventory get out of whack, so internally it’s necessary to have someone dedicated to support it. Wi-Fi is not as taxing on our internal resources because we made the decision to outsource it. We partnered with a national company to set up a customized, high-quality system four years ago that included design, installation and ongoing end-user support. In terms of my team, I would like to be able to innovate more — faster. Members of our team have really good ideas and a lot of knowledge. The technology need is only going to grow, so it’s important to plan for that as it happens. I’ve kept in mind for years that we’re going to need to be HIPAA-compliant sooner or later, so we’ve tried to lay the right tracks to compliance. We’ve had four years of preparation.

CDW: What are some key recommendations you’d give to other senior living communities looking to invest in mobile technology?

CHRIS: The biggest eye opener for me has been to get out from behind my desk and talk to the frontline staff who are actually interacting with residents every day. Also to understand and think about the technology need of not just one community, but many communities, because they’re often different. These residents are your audience. So you’ve got to understand your audience and their unique needs before you can bring in the right technology. It’s much better to fit the technology to the need than the need to the technology. Also, when it comes to resident technology, make it easy. It doesn’t need to be difficult or scary. Provide different ways to teach and engage you audience.

CDW: If you had a crystal ball, how would you say mobile technology is going to fit into the puzzle of the overall technology experience in senior care?

CHRIS: Well, think of it like this. About 20 years ago, home PCs were just becoming mainstream. Internet connectivity? A 56k dialup connection was the norm. Mobile devices like we use today were a dream. That’s only 20 years ago. So it’s already been a game changer across the board for the typical citizen in the United States. However, many seniors were left out because they retired before all these technology advancements. We’re still discovering what all the benefits to seniors are beyond the typical uses of younger generations. I think everyone understands that as people age, they’re going to be bringing their mobile technology with them. The challenge will shift from simply engaging seniors with technology to how best to use technology to keep them engaged, vibrant, healthy and happy.

Interested in mobile devices that can deliver access for your residents? Learn more about CDW Healthcare’s resident and clinician mobility solutions.

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