During his 30 years in the aging and caregiving space, Benchmark Chairman and CEO Tom Grape has seen a fair amount of change in the industry. Today, Benchmark operates nearly 60 different properties for seniors with four areas of focus: independent living, assisted living, mind and memory care, and continuing care retirement communities. While Grape manages a growing portfolio, he is always on the lookout for innovative products and solutions to implement at Benchmark.
How are the challenges your residents and caregivers face today different than when you started out? How has technology changed their lives for the better?
The challenges have evolved. The average age of our residents has increased a bit, and that’s true throughout all of health care. As the average age has increased, people are staying home longer and living longer, so that’s not unique to us.
Because the labor market is very tight, finding talent is a challenge. Fortunately, we’ve been recognized as one of the best places to work, and that helps us with staffing. Additionally, we’ve worked very hard to refresh our culture and communicate our values, and we’re finding that effective in attracting and retaining associates.
With respect to technology, it’s only begun to have an impact on this sector, particularly in areas like security, communication, and safety. We’ve found a great use for technologies that help us analyze movements to prevent falls and assist residents dealing with memory challenges.
What we haven’t really felt the full impact of, but know they are coming, are things like wearable tech and other technologies that will keep people at home much longer. Both will have a positive and negative effect on our industry and be of help to our residents.
Walk me through how Benchmark finds innovative solutions. How do you seek out new products and services?
We find innovative solutions in a number of ways. They find us, or we find them at conferences, through word of mouth, in trade press articles, and through direct referrals. We’re engaging more proactively now in things like AGENCY at the Cambridge Innovation Center (an innovation hub focused on aging and longevity) where we’re a founding launch partner. We’re also involved with the MIT AgeLab (a research program focused on improving the lives of older people and their caregivers) and Aging2.0 (a network supporting innovators addressing the biggest challenges in aging), so we can be exposed to who is doing what.
How do you evaluate new products and services? How do you vet them?
We look at what problem new products or services are trying to solve, the importance of that problem and how they are solving it.
A lot of this really depends on the stage of evolution a product or service is at when we are introduced to it. We evaluate based on that criteria with the appropriate folks at Benchmark before deciding whether it’s something we would purchase or pilot. At the end of a pilot, we reconvene and determine what level of commitment we want to make.
Benchmark has partnered with digital health companies such as Eversound and Rendever. What do you look for in a technology partner?
The partnership is important in itself, and we prequalify based on the following: Are they good listeners? Are they eager to get it right? Are they good collaborators? Are they doing it for the right reasons? Are they open to feedback? We found Rendever and Eversound answered “yes” to those questions for us. Their willingness to work with us made them good partners as opposed to organizations that are rigid in their approach.
How can technology companies better connect with Benchmark and its team?
We have a few folks here to contact. Initial outreach would be to me, then I can designate the appropriate expert within our company to take it from there. We’re eager to hear from folks with solutions to problems we face, especially if the solutions align with our mission to be a human connection company.
When you hear the words “digital health,” what do you think of and how do you see it connecting with what you do you at Benchmark?
I think of harnessing the power of data and technology to help health care providers of all types know more, be more proactive, take preventive steps and provide better care. I think the power of the digital world is enormous, and its potential to impact the lives of seniors is huge. It’s exciting to see all the startups out there.
Do you see an area in senior care that is currently untouched by innovation? What innovations are you seeing, or want to see, that will have the biggest impact on senior care?
I don’t know that I see one that’s untouched. There are a few areas that I’d like faster solutions for. For example, in our population, residents falling is an issue of concern. When someone falls it can portend the beginning of a significant decline in health. There are lots of things that tell us when someone has fallen. That’s great, but it’s after the fact. We’ve been involved with technology that can help predict when someone is about to fall, but it’s just not there yet. We’re very eager for that to be perfected for use.
Do you think tech companies understand the needs of the caregivers and senior living facilities?
No. I think a lot of the products and services we see are not useful or easy to use. Many individuals and companies “believe” they have great ideas, but they haven’t been developed with all the considerations truly needed to be applicable for caregiving staff or residents.
What can digital health companies do to better meet the needs of our aging population and their caregivers?
They need to find ways to get a practical understanding of issues facing residents and providers so they can grasp how their products or services will be used in communities.