Erez Cohen headshot
Erez Cohen

The airspace shutdown by the Federal Aviation Administration a couple of weeks ago, and Southwest Airlines’ recent nationwide scheduling crisis, are reminders that even the most tightly coordinated industries can face fundamental crises when operations go awry.

In Southwest’s case, more than 15,000 flights were delayed over the course of a week, triggered by a record-breaking storm that moved across the country.

New York Times columnist Zeynep Tufecki blamed the Southwest meltdown on the inability of its antiquated software systems to keep pace with industry needs. Ignoring its deficient system for years, Southwest was forced to halt its operations to recover from the storm, stranding thousands of passengers, infuriating employees and devastating its reputation.

A storm created some delays. Bad software turned them into a crisis.

Senior living should take note. Day-to-day senior living operations often rely on outdated software systems that may be passable today but aren’t robust enough to weather the (figurative) storm or help operators grow their companies.

Legacy systems — which often are not even purpose-built for senior living — hinder staff members with unnecessary manual work, adding to their already overburdened schedules and taking them away from time with residents. Those same systems prevent leaders from gaining visibility into actual community operations or accessing data essential to their core processes.

Southwest employees and unions complained for years about the company’s systems, which forced them to deal with miserable workflows each time weather or a delay interrupted operations. Staff members at senior living communities are dealing with the same issues, leading to challenges with employee retention and morale. Instead of being empowered and efficient in their roles, staff members are held back by communities’ reliance on paperwork and slow, antiquated systems. A common scenario we see in many communities: relying on paper move-ins, which require significant administrative overhead and take 80% longer than digitized processes.

A clinical leader at a large operator recently explained to me her process for analyzing incidents and falls across her portfolio. It was a hodgepodge of database queries, multiple Excel files and many hours of shockingly manual work.

In another case, we worked with an operator trying to understand its care profitability by matching care fees to care costs, building by building. Kudos to her for completing the exercise through sheer will and brute force. Most operators don’t even attempt to get to this level of insight. It’s just too difficult to wrangle the systems necessary to do so.

Southwest now is confronting a major regulatory investigation after December’s meltdown. Senior living operators are facing increasing regulatory scrutiny, a scenario made only more burdensome when they can’t rely on their systems for accurate data or reporting.

Although there are many negative consequences to operators relying on old systems, there are as many positive outcomes when operators can use technology that supports them and their workflows. When operators have access to best-in-class systems, they are positioned to run better businesses, retain valuable staff, and most importantly, deliver better care to residents.

In our conversations with operators, it’s clear many are at risk of running on “Southwest mode” and falling behind. The Southwest catastrophe is a warning bell for the senior living industry, but it also is an opportunity for the industry to make proactive improvements to prevent crises in care, revenue and staff satisfaction.

Erez Cohen is the co-founder and co-CEO of August Health, a tech-enabled operating platform and electronic care record for senior living communities. Before founding August Health, he was an executive at Apple, where he led a group of engineering teams. Cohen also was the co-founder of Mapsense, a geospatial mapping startup that was acquired by Apple. He holds degrees in industrial engineering and operations research from the University of California, Berkeley.

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The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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