This article is based on an interview that took place during a live Q&A session with Dave Morgan, Director of Technology and Information Systems for Graceworks Lutheran Services, at the SHN BUILD event in Chicago held on November 17, 2021. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Senior Housing News: Dave Morgan is the Director of Technology and Information Systems, Graceworks Lutheran Services. I’d like to start by asking you to share a little bit about your role and organization, including Bethany Village.
Dave Morgan: Graceworks Lutheran Services is the parent company. We have several services. We have homes spread out across Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio for seniors with low income — basically HUD housing. We also have about 50 homes in communities for individuals with disabilities, and a home health agency that provides both personal and skilled care. Beyond that, our biggest venture is Bethany Village, which is a CCRC in Dayton, Ohio. It’s a beautiful 100-acre campus with what we refer to as “cottages,” housing independent residents on the campus.
In addition to another three apartment buildings, we have an assisted living building that houses 72 rooms, and an assisted living memory support unit that’s about 40 rooms, specific to just those people who need more care for memory support issues. Then, further on in that continuum, there is a skilled nursing facility with roughly 250 beds or rooms. Part of that is a memory support unit. Lastly, we have a post-acute care unit to help with people recovering from surgeries and so on.
SHN: Many communities provide basic cable service while your community offers a full suite of services that includes TV, internet, voice and DVR. What made you offer this more comprehensive package?
Morgan: To understand that, you have to understand where we started. Initially, we were providing television services across the Bethany campus. We only offered telephone services to those in the apartment buildings and the connected buildings. The independent cottages were left on their own, and we weren’t providing internet services for any of the residents other than some common area WiFi hotspots. Residents were struggling because their services changed as they moved through the continuum, so we found a suitable vendor, Sentrics, to help us provide that complete continuum of care, even in the technology realm.
SHN: When was this roughly?
Morgan: 2016 was when we started rolling all of this out.
SHN: A bundled package is inherently more expensive than a single service. How do you justify that expense to your residents? What are the conversations like?
Morgan: “More expensive is something that needs to be evaluated,” as the CFO explained it. You go to Spectrum, and they bundle up their services, so we weren’t necessarily doing anything new. By using Sentrics to provide the services, we looked at reducing some of the costs while offering bundled packages or improvements on what residents can get. For the most part, everything is bundled in the monthly fee. One of the things we wanted to get away from was having a line item for everything on the resident’s bill, because they questioned them and always felt it was too much. We bundled not only the services; we bundled the fees as well.
SHN: In terms of this solution, this package, it is resident-facing. Can you talk about how it impacts the team on the operation side? Do you see any benefit there?
Morgan: I do. We have a single source. From my perspective, it’s better having one person to resolve problems. We also rolled out a Sentrics-provided tech concierge service at the same time, giving residents a singular point of contact for assistance when their iPad wasn’t connecting, when they got a new TV and they had to get it connected, and when they got a new laptop or other device. The tech concierge can go in and help them with those kinds of things. It relieved both the technology staff as well as the other staff from having to answer questions about things they may not have any real experience with.
SHN: I’m just curious, this concept of tech concierge has come up a few times. Is that person designated to the community? What access do residents have to that person?
Morgan: We have an office there on the campus. The tech concierge is physically present during business hours. There are special numbers residents can call to set an appointment or troubleshoot an issue, and there is also an 800 number Sentrics provides for after-hours support. If it can be addressed and fixed over the phone, the representative can walk the resident through it. The help desk is an additional benefit to us.
SHN: We know residents are adopting technology really quickly. What percentage of your residents would you say are leveraging the internet right now? How do you expect that to grow in the next few years?
Morgan: When we first rolled this out, our residents were probably at 30%, 35% connection. We’re close to 65% now. We’ve seen nearly a 15% increase in the last two years as residents felt the need to connect with their family in some way other in-person visits. I expect it will continue to grow.
SHN: Probably 100%?
Morgan: Pretty close. As we get to the point of being in a senior community, we’ll all be connected.
SHN: If someone in the audience wanted to try this bundled approach, how would they build an ROI model to show residents the advantages of a bundled solution from a pricing standpoint?
Morgan: Part of it is an investment by the community. We looked at it as an investment, just as the company invests in technology to run the business. We looked at it as an investment to bring in new residents with the expectation that the future residents will want those kinds of amenities. It’ll be like having water or electricity at that point—they’ll just expect to have WiFi and television. We looked at it as a long-term ROI. By extending that ROI out, we were able to justify it. In addition, we charge a little bit more by selling additional services.
We have a movie package, we have a sports package. We have a music package that goes along with the television services. I think the DVR service is also an additional fee.
SHN: A couple of questions have come in from the audience. One is: Are you utilizing fiber to connect the room, or is this a coaxial cable-based system?
Morgan: That’s an excellent question. We didn’t have any infrastructure for those cottages. When we initially tried to figure out the appropriate technology to use, we selected fiber. At the time, you probably recall that Google was auctioning or trying to get cities to get in line for Google fiber. We looked at it and felt that fiber was the way to go, so we rolled that out to all of the cottages so we could connect them and future proof the community, if you will. Currently, we just started extending that fiber to the rest of the community. All of the living rooms, all of the apartment buildings, all the skilled nursing rooms, they’ll all have fiber running into them.
SHN: Another question from the audience: Is this an option or upgrade for new residents or does it come with the rental agreement? Is it being marketed essentially as a perk?
Morgan: It is marketed as a perk. It is, I guess, a luxury that all of those things are taken care of for you. That’s because it’s bundled into their monthly fees and it’s really not something we have to upsell. It’s something we feel is part of the package.
SHN: On the tech concierge, is that part of the bundle with Sentrics or in-house? You said the person is actually on-site, but what is the structure of that?
Morgan: It is a Sentrics employee on our campus. We have worked with Sentrics to make sure the person selected lives up to the Bethany Village standard. We get to interview the individuals. A Sentrics employee gives the tech concierge more connection to the technology to be able to get things resolved and fixed, so we feel it’s better placed than a Bethany Village employee who has to figure out how everything works.
SHN: When upgrading to fiber, how did you handle some residents being on fiber while others were not yet on the new infrastructure?
Morgan: The service we are providing currently is the same across the entire continuum. Whether the residents are on the fiber or they’re using the older wiring, the service is consistent throughout. The reason that we want to promote and provide fiber throughout the community is that we want to increase the speeds to all of the residents. We want to provide more content and allow them to be better connected to their families and friends.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This article is sponsored by Sentrics. Sentrics delivers a comprehensive suite of data-driven solutions that provide a 360-degree view of residents to help senior living communities transform their operations from reactive to proactive care. To find out how, visit Sentrics.net.
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