In this episode of Raising Tech, our host, Patrick Leonard, has a thought-provoking conversation with Serenity’s CEO, Katherine Wells, about how Serenity’s HIPAA-compliant communication platform and network connect Senior Living communities’ staff, residents and their families.
Serenity’s single conversation platform allows everyone included in the residents’ everyday life to communicate in one place. Discover how Serenity’s communication solution removes the friction from everyone included in residents’ Senior Living journeys.
Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.
Welcome back to Raising Tech, a podcast about all things technology and senior living. Today I am your host, Patrick Leonard. And we're gonna talk about critical topic of communication in senior living communities today. And I won't go too far into it because we have an awesome guest today, Katherine Wells from Serenity that I wanna welcome to the show. Katherine, welcome.Katherine Wells:
Thank you. I'm super excited to be here.Patrick Leonard:
We're super excited to have you. We've had over the last few months, but always have enjoyed our conversations and really passionate about what you all do and our provide specifically as it relates to the senior living space. So I'm excited to dive into this topic further with you today. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, would you mind just starting things off by giving our listeners a little bit of background about yourself and about Serenity?Katherine Wells:
Absolutely. So I spent my entire career in the IT world. I marketed and sold and product managed software for IT departments and software engineers. And about 2010 my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's-like dementia. And as she started to progress in that disease and we eventually moved her into memory care, I stepped into the role of primary family communication coordinator. So I was the person communicating with all the different people providing care. And then as my dad moved into assisted living not long after that number grew pretty extensively and it was very difficult to manage. In fact, I did it on spreadsheet and had 37 different providers I was communicating with about my parents' care and they weren't really talking to each other and they weren't really talking to me. And so I knew that was a problem for me, but I also knew I could solve the problem if the industry wanted to solve it. So I went out and did 300 interviews. I shadowed for three months. I lived in my mom's memory care for nine days. And I saw that the people in this industry are absolute heroes. They give up their life for the care that they're providing and they want to do a better job of communicating and coordinating care and being in lockstep with all the other people providing care. They just didn't have a way. So we created Serenity. Wow,Patrick Leonard:
What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing that with us. It's always so cool to hear from founders on their founding story about why they got into this crazy but amazing world of senior living and particularly on the senior living technology side. There's just so many nuances and so many creative and innovative things coming out all the time, especially over the last five years or so. So I'm always so curious how people got into it. And your story is, is certainly a powerful and meaningful one, one that's near and dear to your heart. So thank you for sharing that.Katherine Wells:
Yeah, it is. If you really look at it from the senior living perspective, the primary family coordinator or could be power of attorney or could just be the primary family member that you're communicating with, is really ultimately the economic buyer. And not everybody thinks about it that way, but the idea that they are an economic buyer, whether they're actually writing the check themselves out of their own checkbook or writing one out of their parents' checkbook, they might also just be sitting on their parents' shoulder and saying, I need you to move to this community because they'll communicate with me or because I vetted them already, I know all the behind the scenes and or they're closer to me because let's face it, location is super important in addition to the care.Patrick Leonard:
Yeah, absolutely. There's so many factors that go into it. And with that, what you created sounds like there's multiple problems or opportunities you're looking to solve with what you've created with Serenity. So can you just dive a little bit deeper into that you saw this opportunity based on your own experience and can you talk a little bit more about how you're hoping to address those or are addressing that with Serenity? 'cause as you mentioned, there's a lot of different stakeholders involved here. So I think that looks a little different for each member of that kind of circle, if you will , involved in this process. So if you dive a little bit deeper into that and just kind of explain how it all works.Katherine Wells:
Yeah, and it's a great question because there are a lot of people involved and that is where those care transitions, the communication between providers, it's where things drop and and it's what we wanna remove the friction from. So we wanna make it very simple and easy for communication to take place. So think of Serenity as a platform of communication as well as a network. So on this platform of communication, our goal is to remove the friction from the entire senior care journey for everyone. So I had 37 different people I was communicating with. Some people might only have five, some people might have one. It kind of depends. There could be a lot of people, there could be a few people, there could be home health involved, there could be home care involved, there could be hospice involved, there could be a doctor, they call them house call doctors. So on this platform we allow everyone to communicate with each other and that can include the family as well as all the various people. That also includes the care recipient, who is the person receiving the care. So we initially started with just a messaging platform that's HIPAA compliant, that allowed a senior living community to communicate with family. A lot of people are trying to solve that problem. So we knew, okay, this is great 'cause a lot of people are trying to solve this problem. We're not the only ones. So how do we differentiate and what additional value do we bring to the table? I was not in the senior living space until 20 17, 20 18. So I certainly don't wanna come in and say, I know everything. I can fix all your problems. I spent a lot of time in the field learning what they're doing, watching what they're doing, watching where help was needed. And then Covid of course showed us that loneliness and isolation kills people that when we have a staffing shortage, we're in big trouble and we've come out of Covid with a huge massive staffing shortage. So how can we help optimize the time for the caregivers? So I look at Serenity as the people behind the scenes who are helping with processes and procedures and optimizing time for staff so that we can automate what a machine can do, leaving humans availability to do what humans are uniquely designed to do. And that's provide the care. So we also have the messaging component. We also have workflows and e-forms and e-signature. We have Alexa for senior living, which allows us to have an in-room concierge for older adults in senior living. And that allows them to be more independent. They have the ability to make video calls with their families, they can call each other. We have this adorable couple in one community who one lives in assisted living, one, one lives in memory care and they'll have a care partner in the memory care help that one get on the Alexa and video chat with her husband. And it's just the most amazing, sweetest thing because even though they're in the same community, they're pretty far apart and he has to go outside to visit her. So just closing that gap for people so that everybody knows what's happening and it's fully transparent. And I think that's one of the things when you have a staffing shortage, you have a lot of people providing care for an older adult, sharing the care of that older adult, keeping all of those people in lockstep with each other is really hard. And that's the the problem that we've tackled.Patrick Leonard:
Absolutely. Well that's awesome. And so that makes a lot of sense and I love you sharing this story about the residents and their loved one kind of connecting and how your platforms empower that. That's the stories that you always love to hear with solutions like this. So I think you're right when you said earlier there are a handful of people out there who are trying to kind of solve the messaging and communication side of it between the residents and the staff family members. I think something that was unique when I think when we started talking in addition to all that was how the providers are involved in this as well. For me personally, I'm more curious about this because I'm not as familiar with how that process is all tied in. So I'd be curious to learn more about that and what that looks like and how the providers are tied into this. How reliance are you on their participation in the platform and you know, what does that felt like and seem like for the the family members, the staff and the rest ?Katherine Wells:
That is one of our unique features is that ability to connect providers in . So what most people do not know is that senior living was never designed to be a medical model. It was designed to be a social model to provide the very basic levels of care, especially assisted living, the assistance with the activities of daily living and maybe some medication management. So what has happened, because the acuity of residents has increased since assisted living first became a thing, the community itself has a medical person on staff and that's a director of nursing. And that director of nursing is not really there to provide this medical care. They're there to oversee the medication dispensing and management and coordinate with all of the people that they curate around them to provide that medical care. And that includes home health and hospice and physical therapy, occupational therapy, rounding, doctors, long-term care pharmacy. So they have all this communication with three. So they're supposed to have options for families to select from. So imagine they're working with two or three different hospice providers and two or three different home health providers and one long-term care pharmacy, probably one, maybe two house call doctors who are coming in and servicing. That gets to be unwieldy pretty quickly to stay on top of all of that communication. So what we do is we create a shared communication channel that allows that director of nursing to communicate directly with the folks at each one of those different organizations. So they'll basically have a list, a list of communication channels, one for each of those providers and they have one place to go and they can communicate with all of them. So communication between the providers is anything that today they would call each other for, in some cases they'll text each other, not HIPAA compliant, not secure. So they have to be aware. It's also not transparent. So it's communication between them. If it happened to be a group text thread, let's say one of those people leaves the organization, they're still on that thread. You can't get rid of it. Serenity just takes all of that away and puts it into a nice, easy, organized way to communicate. And it allows you to put people into that channel and pull people out as you need to without giving personal phone numbers either. So that it's very simple to keep everybody in touch, but without giving out personal data, the communication that takes place there can be anywhere from, Hey, we're running late today. We'll be there in 45 minutes to, I am gonna see Miss Martha in room 25 0 1 today. I heard that she had a fall last night. Do you have any additional information for me or how is she doing today? So that might be something that the rounding doctor would message to the director of nursing. The long-term care pharmacy, we actually have a long-term care pharmacy that uses Serenity as it is main form of communication with the Director of Nursing. And it has eliminated the fax machine, completely eliminated it so they can just share scripts and doctor's orders and to even take a photo of a medicine or a cream and post it and say, we need a refill of this for this patient. All of that goes through Serenity and it makes it all transparent and right there in the platform so that everybody knows what's happening. You know, one common scenario is an older adult falls and has to be taken to the er, the rounding doctor or maybe occupational therapist is coming to see that person the next day at the community. So the director of nursing can just post Ms . Martha was sent to the ER last night. That allows the provider who was gonna see them to say, okay, I can take her off my schedule, I'll follow up with her after she gets back from the hospital and maybe she doesn't even have to go to the community that day.Patrick Leonard:
So thanks for painting the picture of what those types of communications look like. So correct me if I'm wrong and I'm oversimplifying this, I apologize, but for all that makes sense in my mind, I'm envisioning almost the unification of something like a Slack for my internal communication with my team here at work with my healthcare provider's portal where I had messaged back and forth with the nurses and medical records. I'm imagining all these things kind of being unified and brought together in a central location where all the necessary party with one login , I can communicate with all these necessary parties. Am I articulating that and digesting that correctly or is there something I missed? ThereKatherine Wells:
You are . You are everyone in one place communicating and collaborating and educating and following workflows. And that's really important because that's what saves the staff time. And they don't have to think about it because it's in an automated workflow. So they can manage the process of medication management very simply. They can onboard a new resident, they can send out a referral to a hospice provider, for example. So everyone in one place. And the interesting thing here is I used Slack long before I moved into the senior care space, but people in the senior care space don't know what Slack is a lot of times. So it's like explaining Slack in even a more robust way. It's really robust Slack, but specifically designed for this space for senior care. So we're fully HIPAA compliant. Could you use Slack? You probably could, but you'd have to use the HIPAA compliant version, which is ultra expensive because they charge by user and you have to have a minimum of a thousand users on there and you couldn't just quickly add families and other people into the platform. So we're designed to be used on the go. We're very, very simple to use so that anyone at any level of technical expertise is able to use the platform.Patrick Leonard:
That's amazing. So what does the engagement look like from your experience across the different stakeholders that you mentioned? I imagine it looks a little different from residents versus staff versus the providers involved, the family members. How are they all responding? Are there any specific kind of use cases you can point to that helps paint a picture around how they're kind of engaging with this and and really digesting it and utilizing it to make all their lives easier?Katherine Wells:
Yeah, I can tell you for families, we have clients, we have senior living providers who have told us that people move into their community because of the way they'll communicate via Serenity. So it's basically in a very, very simplistic way. You could also think about Serenity as an app for that community. The family gets a login provided by the community, they log in, they can see all the activities, they can see the menu, and then they have this private channel of communication that is just about their loved one. And they can ask how's Mom's depend supply? That was the bane of my existence for my mom. I never knew how many she had left until it was too late and they were down to zero and they needed me to come right now and bring some more right <laugh> . So that kind of communication with family builds trust and it makes it super easy for family. I mean, you know, family members, let's face it, they're Gen Z, they're millennials, they're Gen X, like me. And we expect technology. I fully expect somebody to communicate with me this way. I don't want to pick up the phone and dial a phone number and wait for someone to answer to be put on hold and be transferred around and then have to leave a message and maybe get a phone call back in three days. So from the family side, it gives them a window into the care of their loved one that they don't have right now. The family side's, the easy side, the providers so that the senior living staff, when they log in, they have communication channels that they've been assigned to. So there'll be an all staff channel, there'll be an education channel, there'll be a channel about announcements from the community. So that internal communication. So they aren't necessarily all gonna be communicating with family. So they wouldn't have communication channels with all the family members, but they would have their internal communication and that keeps everybody in the community in lockstep. And then for the third party providers who are coming in, they would log in and they would actually see all the different senior living communities they deal with. So for them, the benefit is they log into Serenity and they say, okay, I'm going to the gardens at St . Elizabeth today, so I'm gonna go to that channel and see what's been going on, and I'm gonna tell them I'll be there at 10 and any sort of updates I need to share or anything that might be happening with one of their residents. And then they'll have another channel with Community A and Community B and community C. So they can just keep going down that list. And they have full direct communication with each of the directors of nursing at the multiple senior livings they service.Patrick Leonard:
That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for walking through the different kind of stakeholders and how they engage at a high level. It makes me think of another question as we're talking about this and bringing so many things together in one unified platform, is there still a need to integrate with some of of the other systems that the community might be using? For example, EHR system, or if the use of Serenity even starts as early as a sales process, is it something that's integrating and communicating with the CRM? So can you talk a little bit about that, about the interconnectivity with other platforms that might be powering the operations of the community?Katherine Wells:
Yeah, we have an open a p I , so we'll integrate with anyone because we come from the tech world. We know that building applications that integrate is super important in this industry. We lovingly call it app Jenga in the senior living industry. It is like app Jenga for the poor communities who are trying to keep up with all these different apps that they have and who does what. And there's a little bit of crossover here or there. So I think that's normal when an industry is undergoing a digital transformation because prior to 2018 there was not a lot of tech in senior care and still we're replacing very manual processes in a lot of our clients. So integration is super important. We have an open a p i, we don't want to be the source of record, we are the source of continuity of communication across everybody. So each one of those platforms like the EHR--they're an inch wide and a mile deep. That's great. We don't wanna be a mile deep. We're a mile wide and an inch deep across all of them, bringing them together. It does start at the sales cycle. And every one of my clients will tell you that that's one of the first things they show is here's how we're gonna communicate with you . Family too often has been told, we're gonna over communicate, we're gonna over communicate, and then they move mom in and they don't get any communication. So they've been burned. So they're really looking for that. And it has been a driver for people to move into certain communities. The piece that I left out from the user experience is the resident user experience. And that brings us to our Alexa for senior living, which is in a closed , secure network. It's a commercial deployment. Think of it like in a hotel, when you walk into a hotel, there's a TV there, it's already programmed, it has your favorite music playing or it has some music playing, it has a TV channels, et cetera. So that's a commercial deployment where all of the content is controlled by the hotel. Same thing with these Alexa devices. They're the video devices, the Alexa show devices and they sit in the resident's room and they constantly are sort of rotating gently information about what's coming up for dinner, what's coming up on the activities. That's where they can say, Alexa, call my daughter. Alexa call for help. So it's a great backup to a nurse call system because I don't know about you, but my dad never conveniently fell right next to a pole cord . And he refused to wear his little pendant around his neck or on his wrist because it made him feel old. But anywhere he fell, he could say, Alexa call for help. So the Alexa show device, it also allows them to check in if they're independent living, they can just say, Alexa, I'm checking in this morning. Done. They don't have to go outside and you know, flip something around where someone on the staff has to go run around and check and make sure everybody's thing is flipped and that means they're doing okay and they're up and moving. So we just automate all of those things and reduce the staff time and make it so easy for the older adults because it truly becomes a bit of a friend for them. And that's the interaction that they have. That's the user experience that they have.Patrick Leonard:
Awesome. Thanks for walking us through the resident experience. At the end of the day, that's kind of the most important. It all ties into it what the staff's doing, of course, so important to providers, but at the end of the day, those two parties are all after, you know, making the residents life easier and the family members. So that was a great use case and the power that Alexa can bring combined with your platform. So. Well this has been an amazing discussion, Katherine. I've learned a lot. I know our listeners are gonna learn a lot. But before we wrap up, is there anything else that you're dying to let listeners know, either about Serenity, where it's at today, or even what's coming next in this realm of communication?Katherine Wells:
Yeah, I think communication is the foundation of everything. And it's a process. It's not an event. It's not something you do once a month when you send out a newsletter. That's not how communication works. And building trust is the most important thing that you can do for your margin. That means your top line and your bottom line. And I would just say, look at all the different communication systems that you might have in-house. You have email, you have phones, you have your nurse call system, you have fax machines. People are texting, whether you tell them not to, doesn't matter, they're texting, I promise you. And none of that is transparent and none of it is within your ability to see what's happening in your own community. So I would just encourage people to look for how can you create a unified platform for all communication across the board and make life so easy for your staff. Serenity pays for itself and less than six months, make life easy for your staff and they'll be able to provide better care for your residents.Patrick Leonard:
I love that. And on a great note. Well, Katherine, thanks again for taking the time today to educate our listeners and myself on this topic. Listeners, I hope this was helpful. Please go check out Serenity online or reach out to Katherine directly to learn more because this is a very powerful solution for the senior living community and the industry at large. And listeners, once again, thanks for tuning in to another episode of Raising Tech. If you have any feedback or if you have an idea for a topic or you wanna be on an episode yourself, please feel free to reach out www.ParasolAlliance.com. Have a good one!