Meeting the growing technology requirements of today's senior living facilities

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Robert Knox
Robert Knox

Thanks to the widespread accessibility of modern technology, today's seniors are coming of age with iPads and Kindle Readers. From their individual apartments to common areas, senior residents can be found with smart phones and tablet computers that demand uninterrupted service and a high-speed connection.

But, large, sprawling senior living campuses peppered with multiple storied brick buildings typically have a difficult time maintaining a consistent cell signal from multiple carriers and may not have the bandwidth to meet the needs their own point-to-point systems installed over time, including the patient care and medical records systems, the credit card machines in the cafeteria and more.

In order to successfully support the technology needs of both the residents and the staff, the underlying network infrastructure of today's senior living facilities must be robust, flexible and able to adapt to future growth.

The first step in meeting all of these technology needs is to conduct an initial analysis of the existing network to determine its strengths and weaknesses and determine the facility's future technology goals.

Most facilities are currently supported by 62.5 micron, OM1 fiber optic network cables, which only pro-vide 1 gig of speed. Upgrading to 50 micron laser-optimized, OM4 fiber optic network cables will provide as much as 100 gigabit of speed at a greater distance, which provides the immediate benefits of longer cable reach and will allow the network to accept most future upgrades, providing enough support for both today and tomor-row's technological demand. One tip is to make sure corresponding network switches are installed to ensure the full use of the new network upgrade.

Once the network has been enhanced, its time to reap the benefits. Reliable Wi-Fi, voice-over-IP (VoIP), distributed antenna systems (DAS) for cell phone enhancement, point of sale (POS) systems and building man-agement and business operations systems can now be supported on the new, proprietary network. That means no more individual, point-to-point systems supported by multiple cable chains, but instead, a single robust network that provides new opportunities for connectivity.

While the initial network upgrade will require additional capital expenditure, it provides a number of benefits and a quick ROI. Here's why it's worth considering:

1. The new network infrastructure can be leveraged from a marketing perspective. Potential residents will be attracted to a facility that can support all of their technology needs.

2. From the payroll department to the facility's Intranet, a robust network will make it easier to conduct business for the facility's staff and minimize resident complaints.

3. Streamlining all the technology onto one platform minimizes the system's hardware and cabling to one point, which will significantly reduce the facility's IT budget, minimizing maintenance costs and equipment up-grades.

4. Providing residents with an all-in-one technology package, including a phone line, Internet and possi-bly even TV service (see below, “What's Next?”) can serve as an additional revenue source for the senior living facility. Because residents will no longer need to contract with individual service providers for each system, a technology fee can be added to their monthly rent.

What's Next?

In addition to streamlining voice and data systems, it's possible for TV programming to run over the senior living facility's new, robust Internet protocol, eliminating the costly cables and satellites that have traditionally been required for TV service. Using the same network data cable that already exists to bring the TV signal to a box in each residence, IPTV, or Internet protocol television, uses existing routers and switches to deliver the vid-eo.

While an additional upfront cost includes some required hardware, the IPTV system will provide a real cost savings when it comes to cable installation, maintenance and systems upkeep and can even be a revenue generator for the facility because the facility is the owner. For this reason, IPTV also allows the facility to create its own informational content on propriety channels without any extra cost.

CASE STUDY

Two Smith Senior Living communities, including $68 million Smith Senior Living in Beverly, IL, and $60 million Smith Crossing in Orland Park, IL, tasked ESD with designing a fiber optic and copper cabling infrastructure to support their community's life safety, healthcare and building services systems while providing flexibility for a projected 20-year plus lifespan. Both network systems upgrade included: interior and exterior Wi-Fi, voice-over-IP, distributed antenna systems (DAS) for cell phone signal enhancement, point of sale (POS) systems and a wireless emergency nurse call system. 


Conclusion

Today's seniors are more likely than ever to depend on state-of-the-art technology that demands the sup-port of a robust network infrastructure. While meeting this demand is likely to require an upgrade to the senior living facility's existing systems, it will also present new business.

Robert Knox is a senior associate and technology consultant at ESD (Environmental Systems Design, Inc.) in Chicago. He can be reached at rknox@esdglobal.com


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