Keeping Participants Socially Engaged and Connected to Care

Center Post

Since 2003, Ecumen has expanded its reach be­yond its bricks-and-mortar campuses in an effort to establish a market niche among older consum­ers living in their own homes. The organization’s mission to empower older people and help them remain independent led to the adoption of a variety of technology products and services.

This is the 15th in a series of case studies from the Preparing for the Future report.

You can check out the full Ecumen case study or continue reading the summary below.
 
The Organization
The roots of the Ecumen organization date back to 1862 when the Lutheran Church began providing foster care in Minnesota. The organization began serving seniors at the beginning of the 20th Century as the Board of Christian Service and later as the Board of Social Ministry. Ecumen adopted its current name in 2004.

Ecumen operates a variety of senior housing options and services throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho. The organization’s 70 sites include 55 independent living and/or assisted living communities and 17 health care centers that employ 4,000 workers and serve more than 10,000 people.

The Approach
Ecumen Connects is a web-based communications portal that the organization is deploying in all of its communities. The organization pays a monthly fee for its use of the Connects portal. Residents can access Ecumen Connects on their home computers or on computers located in the common areas of their communities. 

In addition, many of the campuses are developing group activities that involve watching the movies, taking the virtual tours or playing the games that are part of the Connects program.

Ecumen Connects also serves as a marketing tool for individual campuses, which can share the portal’s web address with prospective residents interested in accessing the community’s calendar of events or connecting with current residents through its social networking component.

Technology
Since 2003, Ecumen has expanded its reach beyond its bricks-and-mortar campuses in an effort to establish a market niche among older consumers living in their own homes. The organization’s mission to empower older people and help them remain independent led to the adoption of a variety of technology products and services:

Remote monitoring
Available as a standard of care for residents of all Ecumen assisted living apartments.

Ecumen at Home: In addition to other services, the Ecumen at Home program offers a variety of technologies on a fee-for-service basis to older people living in their own homes. These include wireless monitoring systems; an elder-friendly cell phone; medication reminder and dispensing systems; brain fitness software; a virtual mailbox, which receives emails and photos without a computer; and an emergency response system.

Social Networking: The portal has a social networking component that allows residents to create a secure online network of family and friends. It also offers recreational activities, such as movies, audio books and virtual tours of cities around the world.

Keys to Success
A workplace culture that actively encourages innovation has helped Ecumen gain staff support for various technology initiatives. The fact that Ecumen employees are expected to continually explore news ways of doing things makes them more comfortable with change and better able to implement new ideas.

The Ecumen Connects portal has a strong champion in the organization’s corporate office who has promoted the program’s implementation by visiting individual Ecumen communities and creating excitement about the program among local staff. Being a champion also involves recruiting other champions at each of the Ecumen sites. These local champions agree to learn the program and teach others to use it, create local content, and organize activities around various program components.

Business Case
Ecumen adopted the Connects platform because it fit the organization’s vision and values, not because it is expected to provide a return on investment. The organization’s leadership team weighed the cost of the program, which is not expensive, against its potential to improve residents’ quality of life, and decided to offer the program free of charge.

In contrast, Ecumen is definitely looking for a return on its investment from the Ecumen at Home program and the sale of technology devices to participants in that program. The organization worked hard to find the right combination of technology and services that would attract private-pay customers.

The key to success, it feels, is offering products that are easy to use and viewed by consumers as useful tools that can help solve specific problems associated with aging-in-place. Most important, products need to be reasonably priced.

You can also view all 18 case studies from the Preparing for the Future report.