Jennifer Kessel

At Capri Senior Communities, we are always looking for ways to improve the quality of life for our residents. Today it’s more important than ever. Senior living providers are dealing with changing demographics:  the population is aging and older people are entering retirement communities at a later age, but, while demand for these communities is growing, the market is increasingly competitive. 

As a result, organizations such as ours need to place a strong emphasis on quality of care, high levels of service, and providing innovative services that deliver real benefits supporting our residents’ emotional and physical wellbeing.

One of the ongoing challenges our residents grapple with is frequency of seeing their loved ones. While the families of our residents are constantly telling us how they wish they could visit more often, some are a long distance away from our properties. Even those based nearby can’t visit as often as they would like.  Many of our residents, who range in age from the late 50s up to over 100 years old, are apprehensive about losing touch. They want to be social, to feel part of daily family life, to see what their grandkids are doing. Even receiving a letter or a postcard makes them noticeably happier.

Although there are video calling applications like Skype or Facetime to help bridge the gap, our residents and their families don’t actually use them – even though they say they will – because they find the technology intimidating and the call quality can be variable. Earlier this year, however, we found a solution to help our residents over this ‘technology’ hurdle: simple, high quality, videoconferencing that they aren’t afraid to use on their own. 

Overcoming the Technology Fear Factor

We were introduced to videoconferencing by Josh Silldorfff, Founder of BrightLife Innovations, a technology firm that operates a specialized video connectivity service for senior living communities and resident families. They installed our videoconferencing systems in specially designated rooms that are available to all residents. 

Josh has a passion for how videoconferencing can improve the lives of seniors and their loved ones, which led him to create a customized service called EasyConnect HD specifically for organizations like ours. In addition to providing an exceptional level of hands-on training and support for residents, his team works with all of the families to get them started and provide all ongoing support to make the videoconferencing experience hassle-free. Residents and families are very pleased with the  – and astonished at how easy it is to have face-to-face calls whenever they wish.

The technology, telyHD™ platform from Tely Labs, is relatively new to the market and is different from other systems in that it was designed specifically for the non-technically-minded user. It is basically a small device that turns any HDTV into a video calling screen, and is controlled with a simple remote control. It incorporates everything you need for a video call, such as a microphone, audio, Wi-Fi and Skype, which allows our residents to communicate either with other telyHD systems or with any Skype-enabled device, anywhere in the world.

Staying Healthier with Virtual Visits

High-definition video calling provides a level of communication that simply isn’t available on a telephone call. It helps our residents avoid the feelings of social isolation that can have a negative effect on their health. Seeing the happiness and joy generated by even a short video conversation has been an amazing and uplifting experience for our community and staff.

The community members who use videoconferencing most regularly have become ambassadors for the program and helpers for people who haven’t yet experienced it for themselves. For family members, videoconferencing provides enormous peace of mind. They are able to see a senior relative’s facial expressions and body language, and even witnessing their level of physical mobility adds a great deal to the experience of connectedness.

The emotional benefits of staying connected with far-away family members have been profound for both our community residents and their relatives.  In the words of Jo Ann Miller, the daughter of one of our Milwaukee community residents, who has lived in Alaska since 1978, “It’s hard to describe how very grateful we are for this service. If it were not for this, we would only see my mother twice a year. I can see her every week now; that makes a huge difference.” 

Jennifer Kessel is director of operations for independent living, Capri Communities. Capri Senior Communities provides quality, caring management services to ten senior living communities in southeastern Wisconsin.