When Doug Leidig was named CEO of Asbury Communities six years ago, his strategic vision was to grow Asbury beyond its continuing care retirement communities into an innovative, diversified aging services organization. Nowhere was the potential greater for that innovation, Leidig believed, than Asbury’s IT division.
“For many years, our IT services were tightly tied to electronic medical record implementation,” Leidig said. “We were good at implementing EMRs, but there was the opportunity to do so much more. We just hadn’t fully outlined what that would be.”
The IT division had been leading innovation on offerings like smart homes and mobile health-monitoring apps, while building the technology infrastructure necessary to seamlessly support these devices along with medical services such as telehealth.
Then COVID-19 hit, further underscoring the critical importance of technology in senior living communities. Family members needed a way to stay connected to residents at a time when in-person visits weren’t possible, and clinicians needed to be able to rely on telehealth and remote patient monitoring solutions. More than ever, residents expected to schedule classes, order dinner, and stream movies from their homes.
Automated technology infrastructure
The decision to spin off IT and rebrand it as ThriveWell Tech, Leidig said, was another step in implementing Asbury’s vision for strategic growth. ThriveWell Tech joins Asbury’s home care services, pharmacy, Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) locations, and physical therapy subsidiaries and joint ventures.
“I’ve really worked on diversifying the group in terms of going outside our industry,” he said. “Eight of my last 10 executive hires have all been from outside the industry, because I think that’s how you get diversity of thought and ideas. Doing this has helped accelerate where we’ve gone over the last three years.”
Nick Patel, whom Leidig hired three years ago as president of ThriveWell Tech, is a perfect example. Patel previously worked on larger enterprise digital transformation projects in banking and finance, for many Fortune 500 companies, and he has amassed a wealth of expertise in strategic technology planning, finance and operations.
“As an industry, senior living is ripe for innovation, yet in other ways it’s no different from any other sector. The emphasis must be on providing a strong return on investment for operators and helping them future-proof their businesses, while providing services that help improve the health and quality of life of residents.”
Leidig said he sees technology as a critical component of restoring strong occupancy rates to senior living. Technology should support the ability of residents to do the same things they did in their own homes. “They’re asking Alexa for help and to find information,” Leidig added. “So everything that people are doing today at home, people want when they move. They should not have to sacrifice anything. In fact, they should be able to upgrade, and do more.”
Yet, senior living IT must go beyond merely having a strong blanket WiFi signal to support streaming movies or video conferencing with loved ones, he said.
Rather, it’s about putting in place an infrastructure that can support technologies to help manage and streamline workforce and HR solutions, business functions or COVID-19 precautions like automated temperature screening stations. It must enable the ever-expanding use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring solutions to aid clinical efforts and promote good outcomes for residents. And it must be reinforced by robust cybersecurity technology to protect residents’ personal identities and data.
IT as operational future-proofing
The right technology should also help operators future-proof their business by laying the groundwork for innovation, Leidig said.
One example is the work the Asbury Foundation is doing with a medical technology startup called REACT Neuro at the Rosborough Brain Health Center for Excellence at Asbury Methodist Village, a continuing care retirement community in Gaithersburg, Md. Developed by brain experts from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital McCance Center for Brain Health, REACT has developed a cognitive assessment using a custom virtual reality headset that evaluates eye tracking, balance coordination and voice analysis to assess the neurocognitive conditions of residents.
“Because of the backbone IT built within our organization, we can do that,” Leidig said. “We have the infrastructure to support those types of cutting-edge initiatives.”
“There really is no CCRC in this industry that is fully integrated and automated to this degree,” he continued. “There are so many things we can do.”
Keeping up with the changes
Having its own IT company in ThriveWell Tech is a differentiator for Asbury, said Leidig, who has watched the industry dramatically transform since he started his career in senior living as a nurse assistant at age 16.
Today, CCRCs are built to physically and programmatically support aging better for longer, with well-equipped wellness centers, multiple dining venues, robust cultural and educational programming, even an environment that fosters social connection and support.
‘I see us becoming much more of a hospitality-type industry,” he said. “And the IT part of that is going to be critical.”
Leidig expects even more changes to come to senior living. Many residents will live on campuses part-time and choose to live in another part of the country the rest of the year.
“With the Baby Boomers, our campuses will become much more diverse,” he said. That diversity will include serving people from more ethnic groups and those with different financial backgrounds, including those living in poverty.
Residents’ tastes and interests will run the gamut too, from health and wellness fanatics who expect programming and dining options that fit their lifestyles to those who want to watch their favorite sports teams on a big flatscreen with a beer and a burger.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but also a huge opportunity as we move forward, to really change the way we look,” Leidig said. “I’m very excited about that part of who we can become.”
He is confident that ThriveWell has the right people and right vision in place to fuel innovation in senior living.