August 2019 LeadingAge Catalyst

Maple Knoll Communities

Cincinnati, OH

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The ServUS Lab at Maple Knoll Village.

Excellence in Technology Innovation

LeadingAge is pleased to recognize Maple Knoll Communities, based in Cincinnati, OH, as a LeadingAge Catalyst for its innovative approach to technology, specifically, the creation of its ServUS Lab & Resource Center.

Maple Knoll Communities operates 2 life plan communities and 3 HUD Section 8/202 residences. The organization prides itself on its openness to adding new technologies to its work.

Megan Ulrich, Maple Knoll’s vice president of marketing, development, and communications, says, “We recognize that the global population of senior citizens is growing exponentially while the [number] of physicians and care staff is shrinking. This is creating a significant health care gap and leaves seniors at risk.”

The organization sees technology as an important way of bridging that gap. It has a history with passive safety and monitoring technology, electronic health records, telehealth technology, and more.

Andy Craig, vice president of technical operations, notes that Maple Knoll was one of the first providers to install full enterprise wi-fi, indoors and outdoors. “It wasn’t just about wanting to have cool internet service, it was to use new, modern devices to replace older systems and make everything work on one infrastructure,” Craig says.

Maple Knoll even has experience with robots. (See “Long-Term Care Gets Its Feet Wet in Robotics” from LeadingAge magazine.)

The ServUS Lab

Last year, the organization had to brainstorm a new use for an 800-square-foot space at Maple Knoll Village. It had been a branch of US Bank, until the bank decided to close it.

“We had to think about what we wanted in that place,” says Ulrich. “What would be the best fit and benefit for residents? [They] are very involved in technology, and [in] how they can improve their lifestyles and remain independent for longer.”

The result is the ServUS Lab & Resource Center, a place where residents and staff can learn about, try, and even buy a variety of devices—from smart lighting systems to Amazon Echos to smart watches to tablets. The Knowledge Bar, located just outside the lab, is a place where residents can talk to a consultant, see a demonstration, work through a tutorial, or even get help arranging home delivery of groceries or a ride through Uber.

Ulrich says the idea was also a response to inquiries from residents who needed assistance with their devices and wanted help investigating new purchases.

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Maple Knoll resident John Anderson visits the Knowledge Bar.

Partnership Creates a New Resident Resource

In creating the ServUS Lab, says Ulrich, Maple Knoll knew it needed help, both with the technology and financing.

The organization already had a history with RoundTower, a Cincinnati-based technology company that describes itself as a “systems integrator.” The company, which also provides IT and cybersecurity services to Maple Knoll, first began working with the provider about 5 years ago, when it was brought in to solve some storage and backup issues.

“From the beginning of our relationship, there was this concept of having a strong foundation and sense about how technology could be a tool to providing better care. It was a natural fit,” says Jolene West, marketing manager for RoundTower.

Maple Knoll knew that creating the ServUS Lab would be expensive. “We reached out [to RoundTower] to see if they could provide tech support, but also a financial contribution,” says Ulrich. RoundTower made a donation toward creating the lab, and now helps Maple Knoll bring new technology to life in the space.

A World of Technology for Eager Residents

The ServUS Lab makes a lot of off-the-shelf technology available to residents. Staff can install smart lighting systems and help residents configure Amazon Echos into their homes. (The latter are very popular at Maple Knoll.) “It’s more than just turning on the lights,” Craig says. “It also makes them safer. Alexa does more than just give the weather report; it can remind them to take medications.” A resident can also use her Echo to stream WMKV-FM, a member-supported public radio station that Maple Knoll Village operates.

Using Echo Connect, a resident can connect an Echo to a landline, enabling Alexa to mimic the function of an emergency pendant, so the resident won’t have to wear the pendant while at home. “They can just say, ‘Alexa, call for help,’ and they’ll be live connected to our security staff,” says Craig. “Even if they can’t fully speak details about their condition or location, we’ll know their name and apartment.”

The lab’s services aren’t just about devices. Technology makes it easier to solve transportation issues, and the isolation it can cause. Maple Knoll has partnered with Uber Health with a system to set up rides for residents, who are freed from having to use an app or creating an account.

The ServUS Lab sells a variety of devices—tablets, smart lighting systems, hubs, and more—but Craig notes that while its prices are competitive, it can’t really compete with big retailers when they run sales. Maple Knoll employees frequently help residents research new technologies that they then purchase elsewhere, and will help residents configure whatever they buy.

Craig says, “We aren’t selling smartphones and plans yet, but we’re looking into it. We really feel that a lot more seniors would be open to smart phones if they didn’t have to go to the Verizon or T-Mobile store. We will help residents purchase them for delivery, we’ll help configure them, and give recommendations.”

“The biggest thing is to remove the barrier that fear causes when adopting technology,” Craig says.

The ServUS Lab staff helps residents with ordinary computer software and hardware problems, but many residents, Craig says, are adopting more mobile alternatives.

“We have residents who bring their laptops to the lab,” he notes, “but even those folks see the tablets we have and begin to ask why they’re lugging around a laptop when they could use a tablet. We see a lot of residents that make that conversion.”

As word of the lab has gotten out, family members are seeking advice about gifts they want to buy their relatives.

Residents in the Thick of Things

Maple Knoll residents are active participants in the ServUS Lab. There are, of course, a number of residents who eagerly seek out new technologies, who make a natural constituency for the lab. Recently, the Maple Knoll residents’ council has added a technology committee to advise the ServUS Lab and keep resident needs at the forefront.

Ulrich adds that prospective residents benefit from the lab as well: “The incoming group of residents on the waitlist are excited about this,” she says. “They are very interested in the lab and the other technologies they can have in their home. We’re seeing more tech-savvy seniors, and even those not so tech-savvy are interested in staying independent longer.” New residents, for instance, can opt for a smart appliance package to be installed in their apartments before move-in.

The ServUS Lab is staffed by 1 full-time equivalent and 3 part-time staff; all are Maple Knoll employees. The lab is open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. One reason it’s called a “lab,” says Craig, is that “we anticipate constant change over time, and that will be dictated by the residents. That will include the hours of operation, what will be offered, and resident traffic.”

Craig says resident visits fluctuate depending on many variables, but there are days when dozens of residents will stop in. The existence of the lab isn’t advertised, but visitors to the community are also welcome to visit.

Maple Knoll employees and residents are encouraged to come with new ideas for sessions at the Knowledge Bar, which sits just outside the lab space. It’s well-suited for small groups, and one-on-one consultations can be done there or in the lab.

Managing the Internet of Things

Maple Knoll staff thinks the Internet of Things (IoT)—the world of devices, such as kitchen appliances, connected with automated systems that can gather data—has great potential for improving quality of life in senior living.

“The most exciting thing going on at our lab right now,” says Craig, “is our residents having direct input and testing of these technologies, to develop something that provides a bigger impact in senior living. This could be more passive monitoring, enabling […] more predictive care and more positive lifestyles.”

Motion sensors can turn on lights or indicate unusual behaviors in an apartment. Door sensors can indicate activity levels. Sensors in refrigerators can gather data about eating habits, and sensors in stoves can recognize unattended overcooking that might lead to smoke or even fires, turning off the heat or turning on hoods as needed.

“There are toilet sensors—and people are shocked when I bring that up—but being able to track someone’s toileting, with their permission, can offer huge advantages because UTIs are common,” says Craig. “You can take a perfectly cognitively functioning person and turn them into someone that looks like they have Alzheimer’s if they have a UTI.”

Two difficult issues raised by the IoT are maintaining security and managing a multiplicity of interfaces.

Media reports about hackers breaking into computer systems via IoT devices can be sensationalistic, but vulnerabilities can exist.

Wes Vandegriff, a RoundTower account manager, says protecting systems requires a proactive approach: “I can’t promise that nothing will happen, but it’s all about mitigating risk and doing what you can,” he says. “The internet of things is still a little bit like the Wild West, but it is maturing. Even IoT companies are doing things with their own devices to reduce the possibilities of exposure. It’s definitely an area of concern, but we’re implementing things so we can have a mature security posture.”

“Security is always [residents’] first question,” Craig says. “No one can ever say their environment is totally secure, but we’ve made huge strides to build through our security program what I call the cybersecurity iron dome. Nothing is impenetrable, but we’ve taken a lot of steps and implemented a lot of technology with RoundTower to [give us] more monitoring insight and ability to quickly react to cybersecurity events. We use their managed security operations center to monitor our environment 24/7 to see every cybersecurity event, whether it’s a brute force attack, an incorrect password, or malware being installed on a mobile device, so we can react to it instantly.”

All the things in the IoT are not made by just one company, so any environment with multiple devices means multiple interfaces. At Maple Knoll, RoundTower has been working on solutions for the issue of too many portals, too many log-ins, and too many alerts. Craig says the organization is not there yet, but “we’re making progress towards that and it’s a priority for us.”

Hands-On Experience Builds Comfort

“We have varied levels of backgrounds and capabilities among residents,” Craig says. “There are some tech-savvy residents who have a focus of getting others to adopt technology—to look at it and consider it. Residents leery of technology aren’t necessarily afraid, nor do they feel incapable, but they are not comfortable going to a technology store or ordering online to get this stuff. Being able to see it and touch it and see the direct benefit [of a device] is a big deal. And in the aftermath of a purchase, if something goes wrong, they want someone they can go to.”

Gene Mitchell is editor of LeadingAge magazine.