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SEASON 2, EPISODE 24

Robotic Solutions for Reducing Staff Burnout & Boosting Operational Efficiency for Senior Living Communities

December 18, 2023
Amber Bardon, Sanjeev Shetty

In this episode of Raising Tech, our host, Amber Bardon, has a fascinating conversation with Sanjeev Shetty, Co-Founder of HelloGard Robotics, about how HelloGard Robotics is addressing staffing challenges in Senior Living communities by utilizing interactive, delivery and cleaning robots.

HelloGard's robotic vacuum and scrubber robots are specifically designed to provide hands-free cleaning for Senior Living communities. Meanwhile, their user-friendly delivery robots are the perfect solution for delivering meals, medications and other essentials to both Senior Living staff & residents. On this episode, you'll have the chance to learn more about HelloGard's Virtual Care (vCare) Companion and also get a sneak peak about their latest product! 

You can find Sanjeev here:
Website or on LinkedIn

Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.


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Amber Bardon:

Welcome to Raising Tech podcast. I'm your host Amber Barden and today our guest is Sanjeev Shetty, who is the co-founder of HelloGard Robotics. Welcome to the show.

Sanjeev Shetty:

Thank you Amber. Thanks for having me.

Amber Bardon:

Let's start off with telling our audience who you are, what's your background? How did you come to be a co-founder of HelloGard?

Sanjeev Shetty:

I spent 20 years in the telecom industry: AOL, Time Warner and Spectrum. After exiting Spectrum I wanted to get into healthcare because I decided that I wanted to do something completely different than telecom and I got into the senior living space working for providers and looking at various solutions such as aging in place for the state of Maryland. I was looking at all kinds of solutions related to falls, to safety, to engagement. After doing that for two years, I joined an engagement platform company and got to do that for two years, had a lot of fun and then decided that I wanted to get into the integration space. So I ran an integration platform as a service company. I did that for two years and then found my calling with robotics. I was always really passionate about it. I was passionate about AI and I saw the need for it and started HelloGard with my partner.

Amber Bardon:

And when did you start the company?

Sanjeev Shetty:

About a year and a half ago is when we started, but we really didn't start to take off until later this year.

Amber Bardon:

I know that there are a lot of different types of robotics companies out there. It's definitely going to be something we're going to see more and more in the future. So tell me more specifically about HelloGard Robotics and what type of robots you have.

Sanjeev Shetty:

We actually consider ourselves a workforce automation company and robots just happen to be in our toolkit. You are right, Amber. There's a lot of robotics companies out there. A lot of them are one trick ponies and others are trying to white label the robots that are out there. The way I see ourselves is we sort of start with the problem statement and then we apply robotics to it. So you know, the problem statement could be someone is down on the custodial staff and don't really have a solution for it. So we find them the best in breed solution to solve for that problem. And then the same thing goes for healthcare. We're building out a generative AI platform to solve for all the healthcare challenges that exist today in the market, such as outdated nurse call systems and not having 24/7 nurse call monitoring. And then the list goes on and on, right? You look at a nurse's day, she's spending 20-30% of her day doing note taking and things that are very mundane and tedious in nature. So we're actually building out a platform called VCare Companion to solve for that problem. And then there's a whole slew of other solutions we're building behind that to address some of the issues that the hospitality industry is facing as well. I really consider ourselves more of a workforce automation solution company that just happens to be selling robots.

Amber Bardon:

Can you elaborate more on the nurse call solution? That's something that's really interesting to me because a lot of our clients are trying to find something more modern for that type of system.

Sanjeev Shetty:

What we're building is really a digital twin. When you think about the nurse call system as it stands today, it's really what I call a dinosaur. It hasn't changed much in the last probably couple of decades, I should say. And there's a lot of difficulty and challenges that come with it. It's a very simple technology but doesn't do a whole lot more than just being able to call a nurse. What we're looking at is sort of a more comprehensive platform that can address all of the challenges that exist in a acute care setting or post-acute care setting, such as being a nurse's aide , providing that continuous digital monitoring, being able to detect a fall, being able to differentiate between what's truly an emergency and what's not. And then the list is really long, it just goes on and on. But the way we're building it is it's from the ground up. We're sort of working with partners that actually come up with the challenges and then we're building generative AI algorithms to solve for it. A lot of the solutions out there just kind of throws up at the wall and see if it sticks. But we're actually taking a very different approach to building out this platform and I think it's going to be truly transformational when we announce this because it's from the provider's perspective and we have someone that's running it that actually came from memory care and senior living has written several white papers on digital twins. So I'm even more excited to have that person run that company for me.

Amber Bardon:

Yeah, I completely agree with you. I was helping one of our clients pick a nurse call system for their new construction building and she was really frustrated because from her point of view, you know, she said we're building this brand new building. It's modern, it's sleek looking and we're putting in technology that looks like it's from like 1960s with like the yellow pendants and the things on the wall. And so definitely that industry is really overdue for some major change and there is some small innovations happening in terms of some of the software and some of the tracking. But I think a lot of the hardware and a lot of the general concept of what those systems are has really not changed at all in years and years. Other hurdles or barriers around the regulatory or compliance side of that?

Sanjeev Shetty:

I think there's always the HIPAA question, right? That's on everyone's mind and there's obviously certifications that need to be had. And so I think we're taking all of that into consideration. Amber, the truth is no one can do this alone, right? So we have partnered with the right folks who are a lot smarter than I am who are bringing all the pieces together and then the VCare companion is going to bring the AI layer on top of all these pieces that already exist in the market and bring a very cohesive, comprehensive solution that solves. So all the little nuances that are out there and makes it really affordable. If you look at it today, there's all kinds of solutions out there, but they're really unaffordable. There's not a lot of margin out there. People are surviving by the skin of their teeth, especially post covid reimbursements don't look the same anymore as you know. Everyone's moving to value-based care, everyone's looking at cutting operational costs. So we're finding creative ways for operators, providers to adopt this technology, make it affordable and yet show ROI . So that's really what VCare is all about.

Amber Bardon:

One of our clients who is a bigger client, they have 35 communities, they have about 3000 employees in senior living. I met with their head of HR and he said something to me that I always think about. He said, there's 10% of our open positions that I will never fill, it's just not possible. The workforce is not there and they're out in California primarily so that's even more difficulty with labor shortages. And so he said robotics is going to be the answer to this. So can you walk me through, in a future environment, what would a Senior Living community look like with your robots in place? Which components would robotics be doing? Can you walk me through a vision of what that would look like?

Sanjeev Shetty:

If you sort of distill the whole senior living industry, you can sort of break it into three buckets. You have your day-to-day operations, like your housekeeping, your grounds and all the stuff that keeps the community running, right? I call it the operations bucket. And then you got your dining bucket and usually that's like the number two thing on your p&l for any Senior Living community. And then you got the healthcare bucket, right? Especially as you go into assisted living and skilled nursing. In each of those buckets, we have a solution. So let's just take operations for instance. Everyone we speak to talks about the strain on the custodial staff. No one wants to go and do carpets 600,000 square feet of space. No one wants to go to the third floor and do it. They'd rather do more meaningful things like maybe disinfecting medical devices or doing laundry or something more meaningful like collecting data. So we actually just launched our first Senior Living community at Beacon Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan this week. And Jeff, who's the CEO there, I mean we have this great testimonial from him where he was like, listen, we know it takes 20 minutes for our custodian to clean a thousand square feet of carpet. This robot does like 28,000 square feet an hour and by the way it works seven days a week and we don't have to pay overtime and it never calls in sick. My point is that the robots just take the operation space, it's not there to replace human labor, but it's there to reduce the strain fill jobs that are hard to find. And it's really there to make the staff really upskill them . Rather than having them vacuum carpets and scrub floors, you're now allowing them to sort of manage these bots and collect data and see how efficient they are and map the floors and it's more meaningful to the staff. You increase your staff retention, you don't need to go hire staff. The ROI is immediate. So that's the operations piece. Let's switch gears and go to the delivery piece. Same thing goes for delivery. If you just look at sort of the dining setting, no one wants to work the morning shift, no one wants to bus tables anymore. People are moving around. It's a revolving door in the dining space, our robots are very unique in the sense we have automatic door openers. They don't spill food. So we did a lot of due diligence and research before we pitched our wagon with the manufacturers. Beyond that we've also developed custom apps and gadgets that actually connect to the robot. So it makes it more efficient, like you know, click buttons and apps. We've integrated with POS systems, you really get a full service solution with our delivery robots. You were one of the first ones actually even integrate with the top three elevator companies. And if you talk to a lot of people, elevator integration is sort of key, right? Because the robots aren't going up and down floors, then it's really not as effective. So you know, that's on the delivery side. And by the way, we have also introduced outdoor delivery robots that actually work truly autonomously. So no one has to drive them. So for example, if you're in a setting and let's say you're in a cottage and you want something delivered late at night or some package delivered, we can deliver packages up to two miles away. So that talks to sort of the delivery aspect. And then of course we talked about vCare and how our robots are functioning in the vCare setting, providing that 24/7 monitoring, providing that peace of mind at night when no nurses around, especially in independent living when there's an emergency call, there's just a security guard. What do you do then? How do you bring a nurse in? We kind of address those three buckets. We've kind of found the best solutions for each of those areas.

Amber Bardon:

I think that there's a huge opportunity, these are all needs that our clients are telling us that they have to be fulfilled through these types of solutions. But I'm curious, can you talk a little bit about what are some of the current barriers to some of these solutions? So for example, I've heard with the cleaning robots, if they can get stuck in a corner sometimes and no one's there to get them out. I've heard concerns from our clients about some of the lawn care robots with are they going to run over someone's cat or something like that. So what are some of the barriers and what are you doing to address those?

Sanjeev Shetty:

Yeah, those are great questions, Amber. We've spent the last three months overcoming all of those barriers. In fact, a lot of our larger clients have tried just about every cleaning robot out there and they came back to us saying "we want to go with your solution just for that reason" because we made it a point to find the best of breed solutions and our robot actually has a 3D lidar. What that means is that it just is smarter. It can see dimensions in 3D. So if there's barriers, it doesn't get lost, it works in tighter spaces, it's got an Nvidia AI chip so it's more intelligent. You can remotely troubleshoot it. In fact, 85% of the issues can be remotely dealt with. No one has to be constantly coming on site . We take support and maintenance really, really seriously. So a lot of our technicians not just go on site and install it, but they want to make sure that you're realizing your ROI from day one. And you'll see that with a lot of our clients and their testimonials as they really like coming to us. Because of that, I can't tell you the number of times I've had clients come to me and say, "Hey Sanjeev, someone just dropped off this robot and literally I haven't heard from them again." It's like buying a car without a key, right? That doesn't work. So we have gone sort of the extra mile to make sure that every client of ours gets a care package, gets the white glove service and really sees us as that outsourced robotics as a service partner rather than just someone who dumps a robot on them .

Amber Bardon:

Yeah, that's a really great point. Can you talk a little bit more about how you do provide that day-to-day support of these types of devices?

Sanjeev Shetty:

This is still evolving Amber, but sort of my vision for support is proactive support. The best support you can find is when no one has to call you, when the phone's never ringing. Of course we want to answer the phone and help people out, but the best customer service is when your phone never rings. The way we're going do that is we're building a command center. So we can tell you when your robot goes down before you even call us, that's where we want to get to. We're not quite there yet, but we're looking for partners who can come along with us on this journey and help launch robots in senior living the next coming years. I think there's going to be unprecedented growth. We're already seeing it in the robotics space. We really need partners who share our vision, who can support us, who know the industry. Senior living is not the only industry we're in, we're in hospitality and healthcare as well. We really need partners such as yourself to help us along this journey.

Amber Bardon:

Speaking of support, what kind of infrastructure or IT set up do communities need to have in order to use the robots effectively?

Sanjeev Shetty:

If you think of technology as a pyramid, where the bottom of the pyramid is your basic infrastructure like wi-fi and wires. As you go up that pyramid, you have your nurse call systems, EHR systems and then at the very top you have things like AI and robotics, but everyone wants to get to the top without investing in the bottom. One thing we realized is that we have a very exhaustive, thorough checklist that goes out before any deployment. We want to make sure that your wi- fi is not just good but it's ubiquitous and it's strong everywhere. So we do things like we kind of had to do this heat maps and things of that nature, but to make sure that there's good continuous wi- fi throughout the space where the robots are functioning. That's real key. Then if you're doing things like elevator integration, there's another checklist against that because we have to work with elevator companies and a lot of these companies are... They're not cheap. We're dealing with labor unions. Depends on the setup and the configuration of what you're trying to do. For example, if you're in a kitchen setting, you may have doors that open and shut, you may need to have the robots communicate with those doors through what we call ADO's. So it really depends on the setting, the type of use case you're dealing with. But generally I would say having good wi- fi is sort of key. The other important ingredient is having a champion there, your lead on the site, boots on the ground to be our main point of contact.

Amber Bardon:

I agree so much with everything you just said. It's something I talk about all the time. I actually talk about the technology pyramid with the infrastructure at the bottom and then building up to get to innovation. So I'm just curious, do your robotics rely on wi- fi or do they have their own network or how does that work?

Sanjeev Shetty:

Well you have two options. Either you go the wi- fi route or you can go the LTE route. We can put a SIM card in and then you tap into this cellular network. Depends on how strong your wi- fi is. We have customers in very, very remote areas in New Mexico where it's a sprawling community and they don't have wi- fi everywhere. I mean they put repeaters and try to enhance the wi- fi, but in some areas we do need to put in that SIM card and provide LTE cellular service as well. So it just depends. Not every customer is the same. And that's the nice thing about us is either we can come out and do the heat map or get someone out to do a heat map.

Amber Bardon:

Yeah, and the wi- fi crisis is something I talk about a lot as well is that so many communities are not prepared because the use case for wi-fi design is not what it is today. When wi- fi was usually installed a few years ago and our rule of thumb estimate is $2 a square foot to upgrade your wi- fi to wall to wall . So you know, it's something a lot of communities have to figure out. How are they going to get there and pay for that in the next few years?

Sanjeev Shetty:

It is positive to see, I was reading a report recently from McKnights about how IT budgets are being increased to like 10%, the overall budget from like two to 5%. Almost half of the communities are putting in money for robotics next year. So that's really a breath of fresh air for me being in the robotics and AI business. We're really looking forward to asserting these communities next year.

Amber Bardon:

Is there anything that you haven't shared yet that you think our listeners should know about what's coming in the future or pieces of advice you would like to offer?

Sanjeev Shetty:

When it comes to robotics, you kind of want to walk before you run because you have a lot of communities that want to do it all. And I would say start small and then grow and learn from those lessons. Obviously I want to sell , every one of my 20 + robots to everyone. I also am a realist and want to make sure that people are successful when they deploy our solutions. So I would say start with a very simple use case. Simplest use case is the housekeeping and the cleaning. Everyone needs to clean their carpets and their floors, right? Everyone has a need and the ROIs very simple. Our robots do about 80% of our custodial staff's duties when it comes to cleaning. We have a very simple ROI calculator. Maybe start there and then look at delivery, both indoors and outdoors. Then start looking at things like our virtual care companion for healthcare. Maybe that's the depth you can take if you start want to start small. That would be my advice for people who want to consider robotics. Start with a simple use case. Prove out the ROI because these robots aren't cheap. Average cleaning robot is anywhere between 30 and 40 grand and you've got the service package that comes with it too . So these are not items, you're not buying a computer here. Generally people have to see an ROI and we help them realize the ROI , not only do we build that ROI calculator, but then we ensure that they see it. So as part of our HelloGard care package, we do outbound calls, we make sure they're seeing the ROI , they're using it. We show them how to look at reporting and analytics. So they're really, really getting the best use out of it and we make it affordable. So let's say you're one of those communities that don't want to put out 40 grand for a robot, right? We can look at leasing options. We have a great financing company that can look at very low cost leasing options and you can do a robotics as a service or machine as a service model, right? So there's so many different ways to adopt robotics without having to break the bank , so to speak.

Amber Bardon:

That's really interesting. I haven't heard of it approached from that perspective as a service. I'm glad you mentioned that for our listeners. Sanjeev, this has been such an interesting episode. I definitely learned a lot. We have had other robotics companies come on, but no one has been able to speak from this perspective on so many different aspects of robotics. So really enjoy the conversation. I want to thank you for coming.

Sanjeev Shetty:

Thanks for having me, Amber. It was a great conversation.

Amber Bardon:

Sanjeev , can you let our listeners know where can they find more information if they are interested in learning more?

Sanjeev Shetty:

Easiest way to find out more about us and our products is go to HelloGard.com. There's links in there where you can reach us directly. They can also dm me directly. Depending on what they want, I'll point them in the right direction.

Amber Bardon:

Thank you so much. And listeners, you can find all of our episodes at raisingtechpodcast.com. You can find us on social media at Raising Tech. And if you'd like to submit feedback on this episode or future ideas for an episode, please reach out to us on any of those platforms. And as always, thank you for listening.

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