SHN BUILD: The Future of AI and How to Practically Use AI to Deliver Business Value

SHN BUILD: The Future of AI and How to Practically Use AI to Deliver Business Value

This article is sponsored by SafelyYou. This article is based on a discussion with George Netscher, CEO & Founder of SafelyYou and Sevy Petras, CEO & Co-Founder of Priority Life Care. This discussion originally took place on November 15, 2023 during the SHN BUILD Conference. The article below has been edited for length and clarity.

Senior Housing News: If you don’t mind just introducing yourselves and talking a little bit about what your company does?

George Netscher: I started the company for my mom, who’s genetically predisposed with Alzheimer’s disease, and watched her mom and recently her big sister pass with the disease. We provide an AI platform for supporting senior housing. Our first product is all based around fall prevention and fall management, where we are today supporting about 10,000 falls a month in 37 states, working with about 50% of the largest senior housing operators.

A core thesis behind the company was that we could collect the data set around a critical need and then be able to develop all these other AI applications and we’re really thrilled about some of the other ones that are coming.

Sevy Petras: I’m the CEO and co-founder of Priority Life Care. I’m also the host of Senior Housing Her Stories, a podcast dedicated to telling the origin stories of women who found careers in senior housing. Priority Life Care is a full third-party management organization. We manage independent, assisted, and memory care communities in approximately 16 states. We have about 65 communities right now that we’re operating mostly for institutional capital partners.

SHN: What challenges are the most important for senior living organizations to overcome in the next few years?

Netscher: The biggest challenge has to be around staffing. Given the demographics and the amount of construction, I think we see that the occupancy is there. What we don’t have is the labor force to care for all the folks that need care. We don’t know how we provide that care at an effective margin.

I think first and foremost is we just don’t have enough people to care for all the folks that need care, and that’s where I get really excited about AI. If we don’t have people, we need technology to help our people be able to spend more time giving care and less time doing all sorts of other tasks. That is often the role of technology. The enabling technology of this decade is certainly artificial intelligence.

There’s a massive opportunity for us to not let the quality of care deteriorate because we have fewer folks or restrict access because we have proportionally fewer caregivers. The ability to really extend our labor force through and at the same time, I think we’re leaving a lot of margin on the table today and there’s a ton of opportunity. That’s actually what our new product, SafelyYou Clarity™, is squarely based around is how do we expand margin and better support staffing? I think there’s a ton of opportunity there as well. So, we created senior living’s only solution to measure care without wearables, empowering operators to align labor to care plans and accurately bill for the care they provide, making the most of both their resources and their revenue.

Petras: I think capital is facing the challenge of the current interest rate environment but that also creates challenges for us as operators because while we may not as a third party, own the building that certainly in some instances can put some certain pressures on the operations.

Sometimes the pressure, it doesn’t give as much flexibility for what we’ve actually put in the performance and while we may be on budget and we may be hitting those things, the winds of challenge of those interest rates come bearing down on all of us from a capital perspective including the parts where you’re like to reinvest capital for capital expenditures upkeep of the building they may want to push those things out and sometimes when you’re pushing out replacing the carpet or doing your curb appeal those things can impact your ability to push rates and continue to stay competitive. While it may not be an immediate, it is something that trickles down on us.

I think that the other challenge as operators is the actual scrutiny that’s coming from the media because while it isn’t necessarily that it’s direct, people are coming to our buildings and being like, “Oh, I read this article and now I’m concerned.” There is a bit of the rumblings of how the federal government is going to start impacting our day-to-day and while everything is state-regulated.

I think that a challenge as an operator is that we really do need to be a united front and we need to be united when instead of when we see something bad be said about our fellow operator in the press rather than celebrating that, we really need to be sticking up for them and we need to call them and say, “Hey, did this? Hey, did you know that this is happening? What can I do to help?”

Instead I feel like in some regards it’s like, “Well, I’m glad that wasn’t me.” We really need to be a united front where we’re speaking from the same voice when it comes to going to Congress, we’re speaking from the same voice when it comes to supporting our industry. We all know none of us are perfect so he who is without sin cast the first stone on their glass house there. I think we have to continue to help each other to be better and I think it is just going to be better for our industry in general. When one of us looks bad, we all look bad. When one of us looks good, we all look good. I think we did that during COVID and I hate to see us start moving away from that.

SHN: How is AI being used currently to support residents and caregivers?

Petras: The one instance that I like to talk about that we at Priority Life Care are utilizing AI is with our vendor partners. One in particular that we’re able to utilize is in a platform called TSOLife. What that AI is using is we do these interviews with each and every resident that comes to move in and it’s all audio. It collects all the data points and we ask them questions about the things they like and what their background was and what they did and what they enjoyed.

It takes this information, and at the base core of it, puts together a suggested calendar of events for the month for each of our residents. In the past, what we would do is our activity director would take that information and then in their brain they would try to put it together based on what they think. I’m sure they use spreadsheets and write stuff down, there’s no specific way to do it, everybody did something a little different. New people would try to take that into consideration but you’re just trying to hit as many people as you can. This platform actually will tell you and our goal is that the calendar will have a hundred percent participation in that month.

Now that doesn’t mean in every single activity in every single engagement but what it will tell you is the likelihood of the percentage of individuals who attend each and every single thing you put on the calendar. The goal then is to say over the month because you have some people that don’t want to participate in big events and you have some people who really like to participate in everything. What it’s doing is it’s helping to formulate ways that as some residents come in and some residents go out, we’re able to keep that calendar fresh for what everybody wants.

Now what we’ve taken an even a step farther than just using it for our activities calendar, we’ve actually included our dietary department in that because again what you would do is you have a resident counsel that’s based around your menu and you like hear what everybody has to say and then you take suggestions and you put those things in. This actually is calibrated on a monthly basis as well as all of the things that people that are currently living there and people who are moving in what they like and want to see on their menu and then we’re able to actually put that in. That to me is a way I believe technology needs to passively provide a way to make everybody’s jobs easier at the building.

We’re collecting data right at the very beginning and just like I’m sure any of you if you go to a new doctor’s office before you come you have to fill out all this paperwork and it gives you all the things like what your history is, what you’re coming for if it’s this. Then you get to the office and what do they do? Ask you the same things. I’m like what did I spend two hours filling all this stuff out for? We’re doing the same thing to our residents and our families and we’re asking like then the dietary department asks it and then the business department and then everybody’s asking the same thing over again and I’m like where’s all this information going like in a drawer and then nobody reads it again?

This to me is a perfect way. I’m not taking anybody’s job away, I’m not replacing a human being with a robot. I’m literally making everybody’s jobs easier so that we can provide satisfaction which includes everybody’s likes and dislikes and very simply an activities calendar and very simply our dietary menus.

Netscher: I think there’s a million different ways. I think one of the things that’s really cool this year is seeing it transition from interesting concepts, like ChatGPT being a bit of a toy thing to people really deploying AI in meaningful ways. For instance, you’re seeing a lot of people support sales and marketing through applications of AI, where you can create marketing copy and have folks on your marketing team able to do more than they would’ve been able to do otherwise and really move to the workflow of the future, which is us spending us as people spending more time editing and less time creating.

For instance, you can create with ChatGPT text that looks quite close to what you want. Then you spend time editing it and fine-tuning it versus writing everything yourself. In terms of the work we do as an example, we can support residents in a way that we’ve never been able to before, where we use AI to detect when specific events are happening in a community, starting with fall management.

You can extend your labor force in a way you never could before, or there’s no way you could have eyes on every resident all the time. Now we have these really powerful tools that are capable of complex pattern matching. I can recognize, for example, when a resident is on the ground with really high accuracy. That wasn’t possible previously.

SHN: What type of impact have you seen from AI with these current applications?

Netscher: With our specific program, what we consistently see is that we’re able to reduce the number of falls by 40% and the number of emergency room visits by 80%. We take a lot of pride in it.

Then what that leads to is a really meaningful impact for the business itself. Residents move in specifically for it. We’re able to retain residents longer. We just published a case study with Merrill Gardens where she showed an extra 30% length of stay using our program and really specifically if folks look at the 90-day retention, how many people move in and then move back out within 90 days?

What we’ve seen is that number is about 30%, which a lot of folks in the industry aren’t necessarily tracking, but about 30% of the residents are moving in and then moving back out within 90 days. We’ve been able to show a 4X reduction in the number of move-outs within 90 days, which is extremely meaningful for a business. Then I think lastly, there’s an opportunity to really drive occupancy.

We can have more folks move in the building. We can keep folks longer. We can also really drive care revenue within the building by recognizing when folks are in the right level of care and when they may not be. We’re thrilled to be launching SafelyYou Clarity™, which basically for the first time we can actually tell the difference between a resident and a staff member in a room, and again, without needing any wearable device.

We don’t need them to wear a pin or wear an armband or anything. We could tell exactly how much time staff are spending in the room, which means that you can actually make sure that you’re getting paid appropriately for the level of work that your staff are providing. That’s just one application of many, but we’re particularly excited about that one given there’s a real opportunity to just make sure that you’re actually getting paid for the work and the services that you’re providing.

Petras: I go back to just using the same TSO example. It actually shows you the satisfaction that your residents are getting from the calendars that you’re using. We’re actually tracking that and it tracks you without any other names against the rest of the industry and you can see how well you’re performing in terms of providing satisfaction because you’re asking people, right? You’re sending out these surveys and then they’re actually able to tell you like did you like this? Are you enjoying this?

I’m hearing the best feedback from our activities directors too, our life enrichment people and our dietary like, “Oh, my gosh, this is made is so much– I was able to find that Mr. Smith and Mr. Thomas none of them wanted to do this but they both said they liked the St. Louis Cardinals and the game was on and we put that on and the two of them watch that game.” How else would you in your brain remember those things?

We’re actually seeing the impact of better participation and higher satisfaction surveys as a result. We do great places to work and then we also do the best of and so this year we’ll also be able because this will be like our third year in a row that we’ve done these so we’re also looking at being able to track these independently and seeing how those scores are going to be coming out as well.

SHN: What do you see for the future of AI?

Petras: I see us getting better at utilizing it. We’re a relatively young industry when you look at us from a real estate perspective. We really only have been around 40 years and we’ve been an extremely fragmented industry historically. It hasn’t been until the last probably less than 10 years have we really even been interested or able to collect data like medical records information, CRM’s. A lot of this stuff as a former banker, I can remember getting financials that were literally on paper and QuickBooks like there really wasn’t any receptacle to collect this data.

Then even more recently we realized just how not apples to oranges some of the data we were collecting. I think we’re finally getting to a place where we can take this data and then do something with it because if you just collect data to collect data and you can’t do anything with it like blah. I do think that while AI sounds like it is the fixer all there really is a lot of human input and understanding that has to be a part of being able to make use of the AI because it can spit out whatever charts and graphs but if it’s charts and graphs that don’t mean anything that we can’t apply it like, what the heck’s the good of it?

I think that the future of AI particularly in our industry because we have also become so much more health-based and health-focused and wellness-focused that we’re probably going to start seeing a lot more technology. I’m sure you guys have seen these Toilabs, the toilet seats. We’re going to be able to be a lot more preventative. SafelyYou is another one. These are things where they’re going to be able to start utilizing AI and applying it to wellness.

Which is something that as an operator and assisted living licensed assisted living we’re very limited as to what we can and can’t do. When in doubt, send them out. That’s all we’ve really been able to do. With this monitoring, this third-party monitoring that’s also utilizing AI to alert an actual medical staff that is licensed and able to do that. It’s given our staff the ability to react sooner and also be a lot more instead of reactive we can be a lot more proactive and that has I think been the biggest difficulty in our industry is that we’re not being given the legal tools to be more proactive and I believe AI and the technology will be able to bring that to life for us. I think that’s going to be the biggest game-changer.

Part of the problem is the regulatory environment of every state is so different and unique it’s a little bit right now prohibitive I like to think of it it’s a little bit like Napster, how Napster was when you’re starting to get into electronic music and the same thing with the original Facebook you got to be an early adapter to start to learn it and embrace it and get to know it like the AI stuff, right? The sooner you adapt it and get familiar with it the faster you’re going to find the ones that work right for you.

I believe that the utilization of these proactive AI-based technologies and our communities that are really focused on providing wellness insights are going to be the way of the future. I believe at some point they will be required by the states to some degree because eventually, I think they’ll start to get paid for and compensated by Medicare to some degree because ultimately, the end-user who’s benefiting from it and really seeing cost reduction is ultimately going to be Medicare by reducing hospitalizations reducing longer stays, reducing those outs to the hospitals.

Netscher: First, it is real. This isn’t just a hype bubble. There is a real technology here that really happened back in 2012. You saw a lot of hype happen around self-driving cars and things like that. What you’re seeing now is that folks realized, you can use AI, not just to detect complex patterns, you can actually generate complex patterns.

What you’ve seen a lot of excitement since ChatGPT came out is that folks have realized that you can not only interpret human texts, you can actually create text that looks very human. I think you’re going to see more and more applications of generative AI. You’re going to see those techniques get better and better. If you haven’t seen OpenAI’s SORA tool, which can create HD video, it’s pretty crazy.

I think you’re going to see generative AI get more and more sophisticated and you’re going to see it branch out into more and more use cases, where people are using it in all sorts of different areas that we maybe hadn’t thought of previously and that the workflow of the future will become more and more of us editing and less time us creating. At the same time, from a risk perspective, what people in the AI community are more concerned of, is that people will trust, I think these AI tools too soon.

Folks might think of Skynet or things like that as being the big scary thing. That’s a risk a little bit further down. It’s still important to be thoughtful. What folks are worried about in the near term is that people will trust these tools too quickly and actually for instance, get in a self-driving car before it’s really ready and end up in a car accident and things like that.

I think we think a lot about how we make sure that we have the right guardrails in place, so that folks aren’t just using ChatGPT for instance, to write your whole email and then there’s actually still errors in it and things like that. How do we help make sure that we put those guardrails in place?

SHN: How are these new technologies being implemented in communities?

Petras: We’re in the beginning infancy stages. We are so much further ahead than we were like five six years ago where we’d have these tech companies come up to us and be like, “Hey, I have this great idea and I want to pilot in your building. It’s going to cost you a hundred thousand dollars for me to put this in there.” I was like, “Okay.” They’re like, “You’re going to need an individual person who’s going to personally operate these and run these blah, blah, blah.”

Everybody’s getting a lot smarter about this and an age check is a whole industry and a whole there’s funds dedicated to it. I get super excited when I see all these super young people in college who are coming up with these ideas based on their own personal experiences that they had with a grandparent or a loved one who was living in a community. I love it that they’re getting significantly better about how they’re testing the information that they’re using and much better about understanding the sheer difficulty.

I believe COVID really shines a light on just how hard some of the jobs are for the individuals who are working in our building caring for our loved ones. I’m very hopeful that these are going to continue to get not just better and easier to use because in my perfect world, we have a system that is going to not just monitor what’s happening from a wellness perspective and help us be more proactive in our caregiving, that it is going to pick up and track every single little thing that we’re actually doing and put it into the EMR system for us, instead of our teams having to stop, input it, go back to doing this, go back.

That’s what I’m saying. It’s very wonky right now where it’s still relying very heavily on humans stopping what they’re doing and putting it in and at the point where AI is going to be able to collect all of that information and data accurately, we’re going to see a couple of things. I think we’re going to see improved satisfaction from our employees who work at the buildings because they’re going to be able to actually do what it is that they’re there to do, which is spend time with the residents, be there to support their teammates.

I also think we’re going to see a significant reduction in deficiencies from a regulatory perspective because 9 times out of 10, we’re actually providing and doing the things that we’re in our care plans to do, we just aren’t actually documenting it and if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen. If we have something that’s electronically capturing this, we’re probably going to find we’re doing significantly more than we’re actually even documenting because we get concerned about bumping somebody up into a higher level of care, which they may or may not be able to afford at that point. I think that ultimately is going to have a deeper satisfaction and a better light because we’re going to start to see better outcomes for all the residents that are living there.

SHN: How do you think these advancements are going to change senior living?

Netscher: Yes, I think advancements change senior living. I do think it really comes down to staffing. We really don’t have enough people to care for all the folks that need it. When you look at the demographics and the availability of caregivers. At the same time, globally, there just aren’t enough people to care for all the folks that are going to need care over the coming years.

If that’s true, then either we end up restricting access to care and there’s fewer and fewer folks that can afford it, or we diminish the quality of care. Neither of those situations are acceptable. At SafelyYou, our mission is that we believe that we can both expand access and lift the quality of care. The way to do it is through AI. There has to be enabling technologies. I think senior living of the future is more and more time where Sevy puts it so well, her vision is that a staff member can’t believe that this is their job.

They just come in, hang out with residents and get to just have social time during the day. We can remove a lot of the other stuff that makes the work very reactive or has them running all over the place or doing a lot of administrative work. How do we make it so that they can really spend time with residents and we can extend the ability of our workforce to do much more?

Petras: I think that they’re going to make senior living the A, number one choice because the research that’s starting to come out that’s being provided and funded by NIC, in particular, is showing that when you move your loved one or yourself into one of our care communities sooner, before your acuity levels get too high, your longevity significantly increases.

We already know that loneliness is the equivalent to your physical health as it is to smoking four packs of cigarettes a day. We already got the socialization aspect of it. If we can improve by the use of AI, understanding better what people and individuals want from their engagement and their dining experiences, and we’re able to then actually be able to proactively increase not just the years in their life, but the life in their years from being able to help them be proactive about their wellness.

You’re going to come to our communities and because we are the resource and we are the coordinator for all of those things to occur, I believe that we will be just as looked upon for an excitement of those retirement years and those last years of people’s lives as people look forward to from a college perspective, because you’re going to get some, we’re going to college to have an experience based on that season of our life.

We know it’s not long-term and we know it’s not forever, but I think that if we’re able to provide those types of experiences for individuals who are at that part in their life, I believe that that’s where I want to go because that’s where I know I’m going to be able to most proactively, independently take hold of what’s going on in my life and take hold of what’s happening for me from a health perspective, and I’m going to be able to get the best care there and I’m going to be able to actually enjoy it and I’m going to be around people who are like-minded like me and I’m going to have fun doing it.

SHN: How can communities get ahead of the curve?

Netscher: That’s a great question. I would say not be scared to try, basically. Just because you’ve done things a certain way for some time, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way of doing things. What we’re seeing now are applications that really do work and can really drive meaningful outcomes, both for the business and for the quality of life for your teams and for the quality of life for residents and families.

I think the hardest part is just getting started. Then once you get started, there’s so much opportunity. I think something that I’m seeing more of is in our housing organizations that have a dedicated person who’s focused on these buy versus build decisions, looking internally at where are the opportunities for us to just level up through technology and what can we do ourselves versus what should we look to an outside vendor to support with, things like that.

I think there’s a massive opportunity if everyone in our organization had someone who was responsible for looking at tools, deciding, understanding the real needs of the business, and understanding where they can optimize. I think there’s a massive opportunity to make the whole business more efficient and effective with that person.

Petras: Collaborate, talk to your fellow operators, invite your vendor partners to a conversation, invite a vendor that you don’t do business with to have a conversation, find out what they’re doing. I think it’s, listen to what someone else is doing. I read a quote earlier that my brother Bobby sent to me and I got to go read it to you guys today too because I think it speaks volumes. “The most dangerous phrase in the English language is we’ve always done it this way.”

We got to go do something different. We got to go listen to what, we have to take the time to listen to our coworkers at the buildings who are there and we got to actually listen to what our residents and our family members are telling us that they want. We got to do it differently. We got to go listen to people. I think that collaboration, supporting, listening, asking the questions, trying different things is the way that we move forward in our industry.

SafelyYou goes beyond fall detection, providing rich insights and an expert support team to empower fall prevention, helping you deliver person-centered care. To learn more, visit:

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