Technology is the hub of communication in senior living communities and RCare owner Myron Kowal joins Josh and Lucas on this episode to discuss the history, challenges, triumphs, and the future of nurse call systems as it relates to the aging population.
Watch this episode here.
Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are still kicking it here at the NIC Conference. We have one of our partners of the program, and guys, we could not do this without partners. We want to welcome to the show Myron Kowal, he is the owner of Rcare. Welcome to the program.
Myron: Thank you, thank you very much. Good to be here.
Lucas: We’re so glad to have you here, right, Josh?
Lucas: So Myron, we’ve been in relationship with you for a little while. We’ve appreciated the partnership and we’re very interested in knowing the facts behind this sharp dressed man here. yOu have a very distinguished look. You’re wearing the cowboy boots like myself and you’ve got a look going on that people notice in the industry. Talk to us about your creativity and your passion behind the senior living industry.
Myron: Creativity. Wow. I’m a little guy so I need to be noticed. When I walk in the room, the guy with the hat, long hair and bowtie, they remember me. I kind of like that idea. The passion behind the industry about what we do at Rcare. Awhile ago, a long time ago, the personal story involved here, and I don’t know how deep we want to get in it. My mother-in-law was bedriden and my father-in-law was hard of hearing. He spent a lot of time in front of the TV set. She was speaking to my wife on the phone; we were long distance and she needed to go to the bathroom and she couldn’t and she was crying for Waldo and my wife is crying as well and she didn’t make it was a real bad situation. We drove down there the next day and I went to RadioShack and bought a transmitter, a receiver, a real loud horn and a strobe alarm and fashioned my very own nurse call system. The next time my mother-in-law needed Waldo, she pushed the button and right on top of the TV set was a strobe light and big loud sound and he was able to get up and take care of her. So that started everything in my mind. A few years later, when I downsized and thinking about what my next career move would be, the news said the largest growth anticipated is going to be in the elder care industry. I said honey, we’re in the elder care industry.
Josh; So, take me back, I want to dive in deeper. Thank you for sharing that personal story, I think that communicates well and tells people what you do and what drives you every day. I can’t help but think if I was in that similar situation, I wouldn’t have a clue to go to RadioShack and piece these things together, so your background prior to that, did you have some background on the technical, technology side of things?
Myron: I always dabbled in it, my background is in philosophy. I do hold a couple of patents that never went anywhere. I found myself in this industry trying to find creative solutions to problems that people are having. Some of them are good, some of them are bad but we keep plugging along. I think we’re making real progress.
Josh: Yeah. So, take us back. How many years since you kinda founded your first product and rolled it out?
Josh: 2002. So since 2002, I know a lot of changes have occurred, not only with your product offerings constantly on the cutting edge, innovative- things like that. I know that things have changed with our space with the industry. So, take us on, you know, kind of world tour of the evolution of RCare, where you are today, where you’re going and why you think you have a good handle on that.
Myron: So, technology has changed an awful lot in the past two decades. We think about the advent of the cellphone, things going wireless, internet of things are commonplace and we keep building on them. But, 20 years ago, that wasn’t the case. We were heavily involved with Telephony, telephone wires. Everyone had a home phone. Now nobody has the home phone. So, a lot of what was- and the industry of assisted living and memory care just burgering, just becoming ideas. And people didn’t know exactly how they were going to address the needs of those people at that time. What it started out with is pers units, little dialers that would sit on a bedside station that had a transmitter and a receiver and then would call somebody on the telephone and say, hey, this person needed help.
The cool thing about that was it had a voice to voice connection so when that person did call for help, they knew someone was coming. They felt it. It was like, okay, someone’s on the way. I’m gonna be okay. Well, as technology progressed, that voice to voice aspect, it kinda went away because technology with transmitters and receivers we could text message people and do all kinds of things like that but when that person pressed the button, they weren’t sure that someone was coming. They would hope that someone was coming and most of the time they did.
Recently, things like Amazon Alexa and we’re doing a pilot project with Fellowship Square in Arizona where they’re working with Amazon and they’ve deployed somewhere like 50 units of Amazon Alexa and with their hospitality suite arrangement, they’re able to say, Alexa, I need help. And that would call a caregiver. And we have a voice to voice connection that says, a caregiver is on the way. It makes people feel like I’m okay. That panic that ensues when you’re in trouble can cause a lot of things to happen.
Josh: Well, so you work with a lot of communities, a lot of different operators, management platforms, ownership groups. What are some of the themes or patterns that you’re hearing in feedback from the operators that they’re saying, hey, this is a problem we’re having or this is a change in our population, we really need some solution for this? Are you getting some consistent feedback on anything like that?
Myron: We are. The word innovation is all over the place. Everyone is using it; we want to innovate- and what does that exactly mean? You keep trying things, slinging it up against the wall seeing if it’s going to work. Let’s think about this a little bit, take some real empirical steps to find out whether this thing is working and not just, you know, the feel good answer to things.
So, we’re seeing, one of the big things is metrics. I’m trying- I’m on a soap box trying to get people to, I’m answer the call kick, because we can now get data from all the facilities that we have around the country and aggregate that data to find out what are the mean and average response times to calls? How many calls are we getting? How many caregivers are actually logged into the system in a facility where this is the number of calls that we have as opposed that are logged into the system. We can see those things right now and by taking a look at that data, we’re trying to give it back to the industry so that they can make those improvements.
Josh: I really like that. So, if I understand- help me understand what you just said. Because I think it’s bigger than what my mind initially told me it was. But what you’re able to do is some true benchmarking, not just among a community group or an ownership group, but more, a broader comparison on benchmarking against your entire platform and benchmarks them against maybe all of your providers?
Myron: Well, right now, we’re in an observation mode. So, benchmarking is something that I think that we’re going to take to the facilities. On that soap box, answer the call is what I’m using as my rallying call. They can create their benchmarks. It changes from cultural aspects, the level of care has some difference, geography and topography have something to do with that.
So, when we take large amounts of data, and try to figure out what’s going on, we have to take a look at the individual site to see exactly what’s going on with those facilities. But suffice to say is that when I ask the question, and you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And everyone’s managing everything they want about care. But they’re not making use of the measurements and we’re making people look at them. And I think that’s the big thing, is you need to look at this, draw your own conclusions and then make the improvements.
QAPI was built around that whole thing. The initiative to make those improvements: find out what the problem, think about what a solution is and measure your effectiveness.
Josh: Sure. So, I would like to know your perspective, because almost every guest no matter what part of the industry they come from, whether they’re operator, developer, service providers, we end up talking and asking their perspective on where our industry is now, serving the greatest generation through this era where we’re all trying to figure out what are the implications on our industry, what are the boomer generation- what are they gonna want, what are they gonna need. From your perspective on what you guys provide, what are some of the thoughts you have on that as far as looking ahead five, ten years from now. Where do you see your company migrating to help be a partner to the industry?
Myron: So, really good question. And I gotta tell you that we’re always watching out of what’s next. The internet of things is going to be a big game changer. One of the things I found out when working with the fellowship people in Arizona was that we have an assumption that elders are technologically averse. They don’t want to do this thing. When the fact of the matter is, we’ve show how to do, they take to it just as quickly as any other like learning the remote on the TV set. Once they do it, they’re good with it. They like it. They like the result of using technology like with the Amazon device.
We’re going to find things. I think data is gonna be a big part of it where we’re going to monitor people for all kinds of health-related vitals and those kinds of things. Notifying caregivers is going to be something that is automatic rather than deliberate in terms of, okay, there’s a bell, it’s ringing. Check the light, go see it. It’s going to say, hey Mary, you’ve got to go take a look at what’s happening in Room 103.
Myron: And it’s going to be directed and directive. And it’s going to make improvements. It’s going to make huge improvements. 5G is going to be a game changer. Now, on the other side of that coin is there’s the regulatory side of things and costs is always an important aspect of it. So, we talk about affordable housing and those kinds of things, in many cases, those guys are not going to be able to afford the infrastructure and the things necessary to do that. So, we have to find out how do we backfill that portion of the industry which actually is huge. It’s the biggest part of what we need to do.
Josh: Gosh, we could talk all day about two of the pillars that you just uncovered which is how do you do and meet the needs in the most cost-effective way, keep things affordable for this next generation, but also the regulatory environment, which seems to always be playing catch-up and so, you know, our hope, Lucas, and one of the things in changing the perception of senior living is also, you know, it can be a rally cry to the service providers like yourself, the experts on technology and the operators to come together with one voice to these regulatory agencies, to these legislators, to force the change because a lot of times our hands are tied. We have this great technology, but you can’t implement it, right?
Myron: What the regulation says is that in a skilled environment, that you have to have a bedside station, a light above the room and a place that dings. So that’s where we are today. You know where we’re gonna be in five years? We’re gonna have a bedside station, a light above the door and a station that goes ding. Beyond that, they’re not getting into all this stuff.
It’s not wrong. It’s probably the best place where if we had to have a failsafe, that’s what’s gonna happen. But, taking it to the internet of things and talking to people about what can happen, it’s gonna be tough. We have to have a unified front on these things.
Myron: The regulation is all about standards. Everybody wants to make standards. It’s hard to come up with standards when the, you know, the plethora, just the huge amount of data and information that’s coming at people that we can do this and we can do that and we can do this.
Josh: Yeah. You know, I think that, I don’t want to chase rabbits here so Lucas you reel me in, but I think one of the things that I’ve been seeing is this trend of assisted living, memory care developers, traditional assisted living/memory care developers have been migrating into less regulated environments like independent living where they can market to maybe that frail independent living person, but do some of these cutting edge technology implementations and integrations where it’s not as highly regulated and I think, you know, if we can learn some things from those providers and use those as test cases for these regulators and these legislators to say, hey, look, we’re basically doing a lot of assisted services. We’re doing a lot of things, Look how well. Look at the fall protection. All of these things, I think that may be a secret ingredient to help have a test case.
Myron: Absolutely. So if history repeats itself, when we went, when assisted living was just starting out, people didn’t know what it was. Now it’s defined. Now it’s regulated. There are standards. 15 years ago, those standards really didn’t exist. So I think we’re going to accelerate what we are going to look at as standards. But again, the industry has got to sort out what it is they want people to do. But, they’ve got to see it. They’ve got to get that empirical data that says, this makes improvements. I want them to look at the data.
Josh: Well, and to your point on kind of adoption or adaptation of technology towards older adults- I’m living proof. My parents, which are the boomer generation, my grandparents who are the greatest generation, you’re talking about integrated into technology: all of them have iPhones and I guarantee you they’re on them shopping on Amazon and talking to Alexa. My parents got Alexa before I did.
Lucas: Mine too.
Josh: And so it’s amazing-
Lucas: -they can afford it!
Josh: And I think it’s funny that we’re still having the conversation of is technology going to be relevant? Is technology relevant? I think even changing the narrative of that conversation, the context of that conversation because it’s here. They’re willing to adapt to it.
Lucas: The boomers are out in front of it. They’re participating.
Josh: And they’re going to demand it. Absolutely. So thank you for your investment. I’m excited, you know, as not only a podcast partner but obviously my day job, we’ve got in one of our communities, we actually have your system going in in the months ahead. It’s under construction. So, great things to come. A great partner to the industry is RCare.
Lucas: Yeah, thank you so much for spending time to talk to us today. Any final words that we didn’t cover?
Myron: I don’t know. The, again, the amount of technology that’s coming at us today, trying to find the best in class kind of stuff to present to the industry is what we’re all about. And so, we’re playing everyday with all these toys and it’s fun. I’ve got to tell everybody: if it’s not fun, I’m not doing it. And I’m having a lot of fun in this industry right now. Bringing a lot of technology to people and just doing our job. It feels good.
Josh: I love that. And it seems like you guys are really looking to integrate that you don’t have to own every platform. And one of the things that I hear and kind of roll my eyes about on a lot of technology platforms is they think that they have to create everything in house and take ownership of everything when often times there’s so many other great technologies that you can integrate with and get there a lot faster, right?
Myron: So we feel like we’re the communication hub of the facility and everything else that needs to communicate can through us and we make sure that it gets to the right source.
Josh: Sure. That’s awesome.
Lucas: Amazing. Great look ahead and a great conversation about technology in senior living. It continues to be just a fascinating conversation that we have and one that’s so realistic and probably a big piece of this phrase that everybody is throwing out there: there’s disruption. Clearly, technology is gonna be a big catalyst to doing that and a great conversation. Myron, thank you so much for spending time with us today and thanks everyone for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.
Lucas: Josh, what a great time to sit down with the very creatively dressed and just got a great attitude behind him, Myron Kowal of RCare.
Josh: Yeah, it was great to hear Myron’s story, his heart and his passion behind what he’s done, how he opened up really about his personal story and that translates into his product as innovation. Great guy. What a great partner, you know. We can’t talk enough about what our partners have meant to us as a platform. But to our listeners, they’ve enabled us to take this content to the masses and what a great partner.
Lucas: It is. And we really appreciate our listeners listening into this. Josh and I have continued to invest everything we’ve got into this platform to see it grow and we really could not have gotten to this point without people’s help supporting us.
Josh: Yeah and you know this group of six partners, RCare being one of the first that really surrounded us. You know, they believed in us and they were able to take our platform to a whole new level this year. Excited about what’s coming in 2020 and beyond because of the investment the partners make not in just the platform, but in the industry. And that’s what they want, you know, communicated is that they believe in the industry, they believe in raising the bar, influencing the space and have invested in us to help do that.
Lucas: And we hope that you’ve enjoyed listening to these thought leadership pieces. We hope you feel inspired. We hope you feel a sense of creativity on your own side. Josh, we say it a lot. We say, be the bridge. And what we mean by that, where you are in your own way in the sector you work in whether you’re at the community level, whether you’re a caregiver or you’re in the corporate office or you’re a partner to the industry, thinking higher than just about your product or your service, thinking about how you can be the bridge. How can you connect one point to another where a gap may be presented? We hope that through the podcast, we’re able to inspire people to do that.
Josh: Be the bridge and join us. That’s what we talk about all the time.
Lucas: You got it. Thanks for listening.