From left: Ziegler’s Dan Hermann and Brian McGough with Matt Warrens, managing director of UnityPoint Health, at the Ziegler Link•Age Fund Symposium.

CHICAGO — Developing a culture of innovation in senior living requires pilot projects where data are captured, involving frontline staff and residents and looking at the ability to scale, three senior living executives said Thursday.

One strategy at Front Porch in California is to start with small tests, but those absolutely require capturing and sharing data, said Kari Olson, the provider’s chief innovation and technology officer, during a concluding session at the Ziegler Link•Age Fund Symposium.

If providers aren’t willing to track the data, then they should not bother with the demonstration, she said. But when a successful pilot project takes place, the data should be shared internally and externally, Olson added.

Front Porch also has made it a priority to involve residents, to the point where one recent project had a resident as the project manager as the team built an app.

“There is now an 80% adoption,” Olson said. “Our organization’s journey — we are now getting residents involved in a disruptive way. It’s this type of transformation that is needed.”

With Avia’s provider members, digital technology has to be seen as an asset class, said Amy Stevens, the company’s executive vice president of provider solutions.

“People put in digital solutions every day,” she said. But many in the C-suite are not recognizing digital tech as an underused asset, Stevens added. 

“We don’t believe that digital innovation is a solo sport,” she said. “How can you change the culture of digital so that it’s not something you do but something that you are?

Stevens added that, often, there is a huge champion at a pilot site who is driving digital success, and that organizations should not forget to find those champions across buildings.

“When you go out to the scaling sites, you have to find the similarly passionate people,” she said. “So many of you are mission-based, and having that ability to tie it back to the why becomes really important.”

Pilots projects are experimental, agreed Olson and Trish Barbato, Revera’s senior vice president for innovation and strategic partnerships, who discussed how her company first involved staff members in a competition for ways to improve patient care in 2016.

Frontline staff showed amazing initiative, Barbato said. 

“The time, the energy, the passion – clearly I didn’t realize my bias,” she said. One pilot project based on a winning idea involved under-bed lighting in long-term care facilities. 

The pilot resulted in a 40% reduction in falls, Barbato said. 

Tests also can fail, and executives shouldn’t be afraid to pull the plug, Olson said.

“Living and celebrating failure is important for all the CEOs in the room,” she said.

Ziegler executives zeroed in on the future of technology in senior living during the symposium, which highlighted many of its Ziegler Link•Age Longevity Fund technology companies. The investment firm’s 2019 tech study found that 65% of those aged 80 to 84 years have mobile phones. Older adults are using the internet to research and keep up on current events, buy through online shopping and do banking and bill payments, noted Ziegler President and CEO Dan Hermann. 

“Every single day, more senior living communities open,” particularly by for-profit entities, he said. “All of them want to be advanced in technology and recognize that’s the wave of the future.”