Home Health Technology: New Chapter of Growth for Tel-Tron

Tel-Tron Technologies - Emergency Call SystemThe new year is bringing with it lots of new excitement to everyone at Tel-Tron Technologies. Recently Senior Vice President of Operations, Malcolm Graham, was able to sit down with Middle Market Executive to share his thoughts on the evolution of senior living technology, the aging boomer population, and how Tel-Tron is responding to this new chapter of growth.

You can read the entire interview here.

For more information on Tel-Tron’s senior living technology solutions, visit www.tel-tron.com

Resolutions For Your Senior Living Community

All too often, resolutions are about the things we give up, the things we choose to do without. No wonder they never get off the ground. This year at Tel-Tron, we’ve decided to take a different approach, by giving you a few ideas on how to enhance and enrich your community and it’s residents and to help make your community an even better place to live and work this year. Here is some inspiration to get you started:

ImageGo Green: A healthier lifestyle begins with a healthier environment, and with all the tools and resources available, it is easier than ever to ensure that your community is eco-friendly. Here are a few simple solutions:

  1. Get an Energy Star check: How energy-efficient is your community? An EPA Energy Star check is the best way to know for sure. Not only is an Energy Star certification mean that your facility is eco-friendly, but it also ensures superior comfort for your residents and a reduction of up to one-third in your energy costs. It’s a win-win!
  2. Recycle Everywhere: While most community have implemented recycling programs in their main living areas, this year, make a commitment to facilitate recycling throughout your community by using divided bins in residents’ rooms or on shared hallways. Education is also important. Since seniors did not grow up recycling, many of them know very little about it. Discuss what can and can’t be recycled, using physical examples, so residents are clear on the guidelines and your program is more successful.
  3. Reduce fabric waste: Fabric waste is a little-known environmental problem in the United States. Assist your residents in getting rid of unwanted clothing and linens with a centrally located donation bin. Donate these items to a shelter or a local thrift shop. Many of these places donate unwanted items to fabric recycling facilities, which turn them into cleaning rags, brushes, etc.

Make Connections: Fostering a sense of community is the key to having happy, fulfilled residents, and achieving it is easier than you think. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Reach out to Residents: Most communities have feedback systems in place, but many residents are hesitant to publicly voice their suggestions, so be sure that you offer a suggestion box of another method for residents to anonymously give their feedback.
  2. Capitalize on Skills: Create a questionnaire to uncover the hidden talents and abilities of your residents, and ask those that are able to host programs around these skills. From woodworking, knitting, and scrapbooking to more active pursuits like yoga and dance, these offer a great way to make sure residents feel relevant and connected.
  3. Help Out: Most people feel a great sense of satisfaction and usefulness by helping others, so find a way to band together for a good cause, from organizing a food drive to stitching blankets for children at homeless shelters.Image

Resolve to Do Better: When residents stay healthy, the entire community thrives. Here are suggestions to help your residents stay on track:

  1. Host a Resolutions Party: Residents can pick a buddy to help them stay on track and offer feedback on ways that the community can help, perhaps by providing healthier meal options or more opportunities for exercise.
  2. Encourage residents to take up one new activity in 2014 that engages their mind, and create loosely organized clubs around these activities. Book clubs, language learning, or puzzles all offer great opportunities for mental exercise.
  3. Schedule a Wellness Check: Offer a free wellness check to residents from a trusted healthcare provider, and use the results to formulate or further develop resolutions.

For more information on how you can improve safety and security for your residents in 2014, visit www.tel-tron.com for details on our complete and customizable Emergency Call System solutions for your community.

We’ve got you covered – an equipment replacement plan that works

You’re not aware of Tel-Tron’s Warranty Plus program?  For $3 per month per apartment, all of your Tel-Tron equipment is covered.  If you take a lightning hit and every last piece of equipment is fried, you get all new equipment at no additional cost.  A staff member dropped a pager in the toilet?  Covered.  A resident ran over a pendant with a car?  Covered.  A technician from a different company dropped a pipe on your console?  Covered.  Your electrical closet flooded and your power supply exploded?  Covered.

It’s my busiest time of year in technical support.  The storms are rolling in, and so are the calls to my after-hours support phone.  Every week, another community falls victim to a lightning strike.  Some get off easy with only a call station or two affected.  Others aren’t so fortunate and require thousands of dollars to repair.  Most of these customers had turned down the opportunity to sign up for Tel-Tron’s Warranty Plus program, which could have saved them thousands in repairs.

I’m also getting a lot of calls from other customers who are having to replace pendants simply because their emergency call system is aging.  Pendants are hypersonically welded shut to make them water resistant, which means that the batteries cannot be replaced.  After a certain amount of time, the pendants will need to be replaced altogether, which can amount to thousands of dollars in replacements.  Again, most of these customers passed on the opportunity to sign up for the Warranty Plus program.

Of course, we don’t leave these customers without options.  We work with them and allow them sign up for the Warranty Plus program, but there is a signup fee.  However, if they had opted to sign up for the Warranty Plus program before their first year of warranty had expired, they would not have had to pay for the signup fee.

Bear with me as we do some math.  Let’s assume you have 60 apartments and 100 pendants:

  • $60/apartment  x  $3/month = $180/month x 12 months  =  $2,160/year
  • 3 years (the estimated life of a pendant)  x  $2,160/year  =  $6,480
  • New pendant cost  =  $100  x  100 pendants  =  $10,000
  • $10,000  –  $4,320  =  $3,520 in savings

This scenario doesn’t include the pagers, batteries for pull cord stations, forces of nature, etc, that might increase these

savings.  Oh, as an added bonus, you get 30% off of Tel-Tron’s list price for new purchases.  And you get a free spares kit to get you back up and running as soon as possible in the event of equipment failure (see image).  And you are allowed free end-user training for up to two of your staff members.  And we automatically send you replacement batteries for your fixed wireless transmitters at three-year intervals.  And we automatically send you back-up batteries for your main Tel-Tron life safety equipment every five years.  Do I need to keep going?

I’m an employee of Tel-Tron and I’m biased.  Don’t simply take my word for it.  We’ve had many customers sign up for the program since its inception.  One hundred percent (yes, that’s 100%) of those customers are still enrolled in the program.

If you want the full skinny of the program, including how to sign up, click here for a link to a brochure.  If you just want to sign up, click here to email Brooke Moffett, who will contact you and write up a contract.

Meet Quality Assurance Engineer Ed Otero

Ed Otero - Tel-Tron Quality Assurance Engineer.

Tel-Tron is constantly developing and delivering new and improved products to help senior living companies and the seniors they serve. An extremely important part of the product development process is ensuring the design meets Tel-Tron’s high standard for quality.

Ed Otero is Tel-Tron’s Quality Assurance Engineer, responsible for final testing and validation of new and existing product designs before they become actual products. Ed has been working with healthcare technology since 1986, involved in installing, maintaining, and testing of systems within hospitals and residential communities.

“I have always kept in the front of my mind that any and all products I touch could at any point in time be used to save someone’s life. This is the reason I have always taken extra care and pride in making sure that what I work on is tested and retested.”

Ed understands the negative impact a product defect can have on community operations and seniors’ lives. “I have always kept in the front of my mind that any and all products I touch could at any point in time be used to save someone’s life,” says Ed. “This is the reason I have always taken extra care and pride in making sure that what I work on is tested and retested.” 

Ed works diligently testing a Tel-Tron wireless transmitter

Ed works diligently at testing a Tel-Tron wireless transmitter

During the testing process, no product is released until it has passed every single test from start-to-finish and the product development team, including Ed, is satisfied that the product is worthy of release. “The tests are numerous and repetitive, and we push our products to the max to ensure that we are delivering only quality products,” Ed says. “I’m very proud to be a member of the Tel-Tron team and knowing that I am doing my part ensuring that every product that touches my hands or goes out the door could be responsible for saving someone’s life.”

Do You Have a Program Designed to Reduce Fall Risk?

Senior woman in wheelchair with caregiver

How do you use technology to mitigate resident fall-risk & maximize independence?

The risk is real
The awareness related to fall risks over the last few years is staggering. One in five hip fractures results in a death within a year of the incident. One in four seniors that fall and fracture a hip, who used to live independently, spend at least the next year in an assisted living or nursing home environment. It’s also a little concerning how little, as an industry, we’ve done to mitigate the risk. Fall detection is largely a waste, the damage is done, and unless the resident is unconscious automated fall detection devices do little more than let you know the horse is out of the barn.

What can you do?
Fall prevention programs need to be comprehensive and targeted. Do you evaluate the medications your residents are taking and develop specific and targeted prevention programs if their medication puts them at increased risk? If a resident has had a previous fall, do you know the likelihood of them falling again compared to those who have never had a fall? Are you putting technology and processes in place to create an environment which reduces a resident’s risk of a repeat incident? Knowing the precursors of a fall is a critical component to prevent it from happening.

For further reading on the risks related to falls and the possible outcomes, often life threatening, visit the CDC’s Website on Falls for Older Adults .

If you don’t currently employ technology to prevent a fall then contact your sales representative
(sales@tel-tron.com) to talk about what it takes to be successfully implement a fall prevention strategy.

To learn more about the benefits of Tel-Tron’s unique fall management technology, click here.

Maximize the Potential of Your Emergency Call System

Are Senior Living Management Teams Out of Touch? The Senior Care Investor www.seniorcareinvestor.com thinks so. In a year where many strong companies in our market grew at an impressive clip, others faltered. During these periods of growth the challenges of bringing on new buildings in different states of disrepair, staff members from different performance cultures, and resident occupancy varying greatly by geographical market have restricted earning potential for even the industry leaders. To steal a quote from the SeniorCare Investor’s most recent publication, “When someone figures out how to profitably run a large chain but maintain a mom and pop feel, then that company will top the return lists every year.” Whether you are the mom and pop provider or you’re trying to create that feeling within your community, personal attention to detail and a level of concern for the quality of life and security of your residents is what creates the “I’m home” feeling.

Being there when a resident needs you, responding with the same passion you would to your own family, being able to know when you miss and make it right; these are just the first steps to creating the feeling of home. You’ve got dinner, the air conditioning, the community bus, and putting green to worry about. Let us tell you when to worry about a resident’s security and emergency health needs require your attention. Let us take care of the compliance to your internal policies.

There is amazing new and innovative technology being created every day by us and companies like ours that goes under-utilized. Many of you already own it and just aren’t taking advantage of what you’ve already bought. All you have to do is invest the time to better understand how knowing what you don’t know can change the lives of your residents.

Here’s a quick tip to ensure that your key team members are really in touch with what happens at the front lines of your communities. Follow the steps below to enable a notification sent directly to your cell phone every time a resident waits more than ten minutes for assistance. You may think your front line is staffed appropriately and responding with the same passion you would, but this will let you know for sure.

Log into your Auditrak reporting package at www.auditrak.com and select the My Auditrak tab.

Select the Contact Methods link on your My Auditrak page and ensure that your contact information is correct.

 Once your contact information is correct go back to your My Auditrak tab and select the link for Event Notification Setup.

If I were interested in Emergency Call events I would select that option from the list, it’s the last item listed in the above image, then select the option for Report after and change the value to 10 minutes.  If I select SMS as the notification option I will now receive a notification every time an Emergency Call at the selected community reaches 10 minutes without being responded to by the staff onsite.  This will give any executive a real time feel for what’s happening at the community level.  Allowing you to intervene and change the experience of your residents in nearly real time can make the difference between the feeling of home and the feeling that they are alone an uncared for.

If you’re interested in having a discussion or seeing a demonstration about how the systems you already own can allow your team to better focus their time on what matters most and ensure that leaders in your company know when things aren’t right on the front lines send me an email at mgraham@tel-tron.com or give me a call at 386-523-1078 so we can start the changes today.

Your residents. They’re why I get up in the morning.

As a technical support manager and representative for Tel-Tron, it’s easy for me to feel down some days.  After all, the only clients I talk to regularly are the people that have problems, and are frustrated.  When was the last time you called a product manufacturer’s technical support line to tell them how great their product worked?  See, I don’t get to talk to the 97% of our customers who didn’t call technical support in a given day.

Due to the nature of my position, I like to get out in the field from time to time to remind me of the reason for my career choice.  Recently, I took a trip to the New Orleans area and visited a couple communities.  I was there to fix a few problems, and make soe requested programming changes, at each.  The weather was hot (nearing 100 degrees) and humid. I was often working in a non-air-conditioned room and was literally dripping with sweat.  I was not in the best of moods.  However, something inevitably cheered me up.

I was sitting in the community’s lobby and trying to cool off.  Soft instrumental music was playing overhead, as it often does in a community like this.  Suddenly, from my right, I heard singing.  The song was “Someone to Watch Over Me” and an elderly lady was singing along with it.  Her voice was wonderful and I couldn’t help wondering if she had been a professional singer at some point in her life.  I immediately smiled and enjoyed her rendition.  She is why I continue to do technical support for Tel-Tron.

At another community, I was sitting in the lobby awaiting the manager after a long days’ work.  I was ready to call it a day after sitting in an uncomfortable chair for hours on end, watching data fly by on my computer.  An elderly gentleman sat next to me and we had an interesting conversation about his time in World War II.  He is why I love to do this.

I get up in the morning for these residents.  Helping you keep  your residents protected is the reason I can’t sleep some nights.  I know that my job is important to their quality of life and well-being.  I know that they are all individuals that have different needs.  It’s up to me to understand the wireless and life safety technology behind those needs and ensure it stays operational.    It bothers me to think about someone living in a community where there isn’t a well functioning emergency call system.  If anyone at Tel-Tron didn’t feel this same way, they wouldn’t work here.  It’s just part of who we are.

VERY Key Metrics – Ignore At Your Own Peril

Tel-Tron powers the systems technology at roughly 1,000 retirement communities, improving the quality of life for over 100,000 residents. We work with over 200 senior living clients and have a very long-term understanding of the good, bad and ugly of senior housing management.  I’ve been tempted to start a blog series on things I would do if I owned a senior living company or community.   Given the challenges we’ve helped folks through this week,  that temptation is growing harder and harder to resist.

Let’s consider this post the prologue to that series, which will provide a behind-the-scenes, outsider’s, perspective on some very fundamental changes senior living executives could implement that would change everything for them.  Here is an example.

Visual Management of Staff Response to Resident Emergencies

Here are a few snapshots from a daily dashboard – available to any Tel-Tron user – from Auditrak.com.  Check out these statistics and see if you agree with my recommendations.  This is a real-life 80 unit assisted living community, with a fairly aged population.  The staffing levels are similar to sister communities of similar size, but the needs here are apparently greater than the staff can handle effectively without intervention.

Take a look at the activity level for just the last 24 hours on this real-life emergency call system.  What we see is a disaster. If I were the Executive Director of this community, this would have my undivided attention.  What I see is that in the last 24 hours, there have been 74 emergency calls, most of which originated from a resident pushing their wireless necklace pendant.  The balance were from pull cords in the bedroom, with only a small number of alarms originating from a pull station in the bathroom.

Daily Activity Snapshot

THE AVERAGE RESPONSE TIME IS 42 MINUTES!!!!  The longest alarm took 6 hours.  One has to assume that the 6 hour alarm has some explanation, but the average is 42 minutes.  In fact, a resident living at this community would be far better served by calling 911, rather than using the emergency call system installed in the community.  What, I ask you, other than poor training, indifference, lack of understanding could cause the people responsible for caring for these residents to think this average is acceptable.

Let’s look at a Chart 2, also for the last 24 hours, which will show us the call distribution by hour for the last 24 hours.  What we see is that the average number of calls per hour is approximately 4.  There appears to be a peak before the dinner hour, and again between 10pm and midnight.  Even still, these peaks only represent 7-9 calls an hour.  Not a very heavy workload by any measure.

Chart 2

Next, let’s take a look at some performance gauges that this community has set for itself, using their own targets, in the three areas relative to staff response.

Performance Gauges

We already discussed the average response time.  Notice their own internal target is 5 minutes, with 8 minutes being allowed.  The longest response time has been discussed already, too.  The last metric, % of responses outside their target threshold, 72%.  An overwhelming majority of their resident emergencies are taking staff longer than 5 minutes to respond.  I know.  Not every alarm is an emergency.   However, there is no way to know the real alarms from the non-emergency alarms until staff responds.  It is imperative to treat each alarm as the real thing, or else when there is a real alarm it will be a disaster.  Worse yet, an avoidable one brought on by complacency.

Last chart.  This one is about profitability, which may make hiring more (or better) staff a reality for this community.  This is a chart that shows the top users of the emergency call system.  Take a look.

Frequent Users (and abusers)

Remember, there were 74 emergency calls in the last 24 hours.  These 7 residents alone accounted for 71% of the calls placed over that period.  They should be paying more than others.  Whoever is in room 218, if this is continuous over time, should be paying even more than the other 6.  They are using the emergency call system 3X as often as the person who is number 3 on the list.  Assuming each alarm takes 5-10 minutes of staff time, this single resident is getting 1-3 hours of staff time  – daily – that other residents aren’t receiving.  I’d charge for that somehow.

Surely there are a number of factors that go into determining how much a resident pays for assisted living services.  The amount of staff time consumed by excessive use of the call system should be among them.

These are just a few examples of the kind of data that is available on the Auditrak.com service.  These 4 charts are on a daily dashboard that is emailed to executive directors (if they request it), making review of the numbers almost effortless.  Failing to review these numbers – which is apparently the case at this community – results in poor performance across the board.  My guess is that their resident surveys aren’t that great either.

Technology Makes Top Ten Senior Living Trends for 2011

From Senior Housing News comes this article about technology. Click here for full article.

I highlighted things that stuck out for me.  One thing they failed to mention was the safety piece.  The barriers to entry into this “senior monitoring business” are very low.  With many companies, safety is a marketing buzz word.  I like the mention here of industry standards and the economic value of such, however, the life safety benefit of standards is the real deal.

Technology – Monitoring Networks, Apps, Devices and Systems Integrators

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your monitoring …..Through gadgets, apps, networks and the cloud! During 2010, a trickle of vendors released new monitoring systems and delivery options. The flood gates are going to bust open as the economy heals and companies are looking to invest and expand into high growth markets. Look for continued announcements and product offerings from old and new technology companies as well as acquisitions and roll ups of related products and services for the senior care market. Some products will be “me too” products that will provide additional market choices but few, real new features. Who will win? We’re betting on well designed products that are simple without feature overload at reasonable prices.

One of the areas that will start to accelerate in 2011 is systems integrators working in local markets to deploy various monitoring systems that employ industry standards  ***See UL2560 article here *** . If vendors work within established standards, the costs for deployment and support have a higher probability of being adopted faster than those that are built upon proprietary technology. These systems integrators will need to provide better service than the Geek Squad but also know about concepts on senior living design and general contracting besides the technical nature of deployment of these networks. What are we forgetting? The most important features: selling and servicing seniors and their children. How many local GC’s are ready for this? If you said very little, you’re probably being generous. The costs of a design and tech make-over may make your stomach turn at first but if amortized over an additional 5 years in the home versus assisted or skilled care, it will seem like a bargain.  In a society of instant gratification, that will be a hard sell.

So what about safety?  It seems most folks are interested in the fire alarm.  When it comes to the “wireless nurse call” system, a standard of mediocrity exists.  If the “emergency call system”  is ever used to save a life, shouldn’t it be designed to do just that. . . . in all conditions?   If a component fails, the power goes out for several hours, the annunciator panel becomes disabled, etc., it should still be capable of saving a life.  See Tel-Tron’s website for the real deal solution.

A National Standard for Emergency Call Systems (It’s on the way!)

In any Assisted or Independent Living community, the emergency call system is a significant link in the delivery of Life Safety for the residents. When help is needed, the expectation is that the emergency call system will reliably summon that help.

Despite this importance, however, emergency call systems are often treated pretty casually. Many think the various systems available on the market are all alike; they are not. Many assume that any system on the market must meet a nationally recognized standard; not so – there is no such standard – not today.

Nurse call systems for hospitals and nursing homes have had the ANSI/UL 1069 standard for many years. There are significant differences between application of nurse call and emergency call systems, however; applying a standard for nurse call to a residential property, such as Assisted Living or Independent Living, simply does not work well.

The standard for Assisted and Independent Living is coming, though. After almost seven years of work, a final draft of ANSI/UL 2560 has been posted on an internal UL web site for comment by members of the panel that will vote upon its adoption and other stake holders. Depending on the comments received, it will most likely be voted upon and adopted in early 2011.

 

The new 2560 standard covers hard wired and wireless emergency call systems. It requires minimum coverage of fixed call stations, allows portable devices (pendants) and specifies the maximum time from when an alarm is placed until it is reported. Generally, calls can be canceled only at the point from which they originated. (With certain exceptions, the call cannot be canceled from the desk.) All devices must be self testing and troubles must be reported within specified times. The standard requires backup power and obligates the manufacturer to state how long the backup power will last. It also requires that a battery powered device report a low battery and will continue to work for at least seven days after the low battery report.

The standard is very inclusive in terms of requirements. It provides no special advantage for any one manufacturer; most current manufacturers should be able to comply with only minor revisions to their products, if any. The standard also provides for future innovation by covering only the core life safety system. Ancillary features which were not envisioned by the standard can be added to the system provided they do not interfere with the operation of the core system.

This all started back in 2003 when Tel-Tron and a handful of other manufacturers formed the Emergency Call Systems Association (ECSA). The intent was to publish a consensus standard that would detail the minimum standards for an emergency call system. With no staff and no budget, the attempt never really got off the ground.

Then, in 2005, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) picked up the ball. NEMA’s “Health Care Communications Group” expanded its role and became the “Health Care Communications and Emergency Call Systems Group.” Many of the companies from the by then disbanded ECSA were represented and the effort for a national standard resumed. A task group was formed to draft a standard and both NEMA and UL agreed to provide staff support.

 

Like all ANSI standards, 2560 represents a consensus of manufacturers, users, regulatory agencies, and National Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) and other stake holders. By rule, and to avoid building standards around parochial interests, manufacturers are a small minority of representation on a Standards Technical Panel (STP). In the case of this standard, the STP consists of 17 members, only 5 of whom are product manufacturers.

A white paper on the proposed standard has been prepared by NEMA and is available here http://www.nema.org/stds/sbp1.cfm. (The document is free, but NEMA is not immune from bureaucracy, so you need to create an account to download it.) In some areas, the white paper was predictive, and there are some discrepancies between it and the draft standard, but it still provides a good overview of the standard.

Once the standard has been adopted, it will take some time for manufactures to demonstrate compliance to an NRTL and become “listed.” Our industry is moving towards the time when owners, developers, and managers of Senior Living communities will have a trusted third-party evaluation of the emergency call systems they are considering for purchase.

Tel-Tron has always been dedicated to lifting the reputation and quality of our industry. A national standard is one way to do that. Our Brian Dawson was founder and president of the original ECSA. Brian is also a member of the Hospital Communications and Emergency Call Systems Group at NEMA. I chair the Technical Committee of that group, was a member of the task group that created the original draft of the standard, and wrote the NEMA white paper. I am also a member of the UL1069 STP (to which this standard has been assigned) and chair the task group charged with handling ANSI/UL 2560.

As the senior living industry continues to mature, the time for this standard has come. Resident safety is too important a topic – from both the humanity and legal points of view – to take a chance on a product that cannot meet minimum standards. Most manufacturers and suppliers of emergency call systems provide quality and reliable products. There are exceptions, however, and this new 2560 standard will allow communities to purchase compliant products with confidence.

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say. “

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say. “

Ralph Waldo Emerson

turn·key / ˈtərnˌkē/• n. (pl. -keys) archaic a jailer.• adj. of or involving the provision of a complete product or service that is ready for immediate use.

We’re not big on talk here at Tel-Tron, we sell turnkey solutions and actually provide the same.  Every project that Tel-Tron partners in embodies the idea that the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.  Tel-Tron has been the leading manufacturer of emergency call systems for decades but we don’t stop participating at the end of the production line.  Tel-Tron provides the highest quality and most consistent turnkey solutions because we ensure that the equipment we took so much care to design and manufacture actually gets implemented in the way it was designed.  Tel-Tron project managers, trainers and support staff are with your team from the moment you buy the system to ensure that shortcuts aren’t taken, steps aren’t missed and that you always get the same consistent quality that allows you to concentrate on providing the best care to your residents.

I’m sure many of you have been involved in projects where fingers get pointed, excuses are made and it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who assumes responsibility for anything, the Tel-Tron turnkey solution for emergency call systems couldn’t be more different.  Many of our competitors use dealers, electricians, general contractors or maybe even the subcontractor doing the fire alarm system to act as the responsible entity for their emergency call system needs.  That subcontractor may then subcontract the job out to someone else when they get busy installing fire alarms.  The end result is layers of incompetence.  Tel-Tron project managers only manage projects that include Tel-Tron emergency call systems, they test every device, they ensure your staff is properly trained; they coordinate integrations with other vendors and are at your community ensuring that the transition to your new system is as seamless and unobtrusive as possible.

Our project management team ensures that everything from system design drawings, pre-requisite installation requirements, training, reporting and every other aspect of the system installation and operation are all handled by the same team of experts that are always accountable to you.  We’ll provide you with updates, project schedules, integration documentation and even coordinate the meetings with any other technical partners that need to be involved.  With decades of experience, industry certifications and an ownership mentality regarding your investment there is no need to look any further than your team at Tel-Tron.

Put us to the test..  Let us know what’s important to you, how you wish it worked, or just paint us a picture of the destination and then turn us loose to ensure your vision gets fulfilled.  We let our actions do our talking and can’t wait to show you how different things can be when Tel-Tron provides a true turn-key solution for your senior living community emergency notification needs and more.  Look for our blog next month on the advantage of Tel-Tron’s distributed regional presence and how we leverage those resources to manage your installation with Tel-Tron factory certified project managers for less than many of our bloated competitors while still providing services they can’t or won’t.

All Senior Living Communities Are The Same!

Exhibit ASeriously.  Take a look at the web sites for the top senior living providers and see if you can spot the differences between them.  I’ve posted a few screen shots from a few just to prove the point.  Look at the mission statement graphic.  Is there a senior living company in existence that doesn’t claim to do ALL of those same things?

  • Friendly/Caring Staff
  • Beautiful Rooms
  • Great Food Service
  • Fun Activities and Social InteractionExhibit B
  • Regular Laundry Services
  • Transportation as Needed
  • 24 hour emergency response system
  • Etc., Etc., Etc.

So it is reasonable to assume all senior living communities are the same based on what they “claim” to be able to provide.  Deeper understanding isn’t necessary.  The only method to choose one from another would be whichever is cheapest.  Make sense?  It’s only where you will likely live the rest of your life.

To a person, my clients would say that is a ridiculous assertion.  And they would be right.

Having been in literally hundreds of retirement communities all over the United Exhibit CStates I can say with certainty that while the list of offerings is similar, all senior living communities are NOT the same.

In about 100 ways that don’t show up well on paper, I could easily describe the difference between a run-down old building, with criminal care givers, operated by a fly-by-night company and a well run, thoughtfully built and superbly managed senior living community – maybe even operated by a equally high quality corporate owner.  Every senior living executive knows instinctively that not all senior living companies, or communities, are created equal.  Far from it!

So help me with this.  Some of those same senior living executives – decision makers –believe that there is equality between all emergency call system providers simply because they claim to offer similar services.  For example, most of us claim to provide:

Does not the same logic apply to our industry and theirs?  You can’t have it both ways.  Isn’t it the design, manufacture and delivery of products and services that makes ALL the difference?  Of course.  There seems to be a strong desire for the flexibility that comes from buying commodity products – multiple sources, hyper-competitive pricing, etc.  But just pretending that a market is commoditized doesn’t make it true.  It does, however, alter your perceptions – incorrectly and potentially dangerously.

If you are using a commodity-based mentality to judge a non-commodity product/service you will make two mistakes.  1) You will assume the low price companies are decent quality and just being competitive.  Wrong.  They are inexpensive because they are cheap and poorly made.  2)  You will assume the high price companies are not better than the low price guys, they are just out of touch with current market prices.  Wrong again.

Being the Designer and Manufacturer Matters

Making A Difference

Delivering On The Promise 78 Times and Counting

In about 100 ways that don’t show up well on paper, I could describe the difference between a cheap PC based system, integrated with generic wireless components made by someone else, delivered by a clueless bunch of software guys, and a highly specialized emergency call system, made in America by a company that has invented nearly every feature of modern life safety systems, delivered and supported by the most experienced and committed emergency call professionals in the world.

So, no.  Not all senior living communities are the same. Neither are emergency call companies.

Online ordering….Easy and Free Shipping

A few years ago we had an initiative around Tel-Tron to “Make it Easy.”  It incorporated everything from posting all of our operations guides on our website for customers to easily access to improving manufacturing processes to maximize efficiency.  One of the customer-oriented results was an online store, allowing communities and dealers to order over the internet.  This meant they could order at their convenience and not have to send a fax, wait on hold over the telephone, only call during our business hours, etc.

According to our customers this was a convenient and welcome tool.  Internally, though, we were still manually entering the order into our accounting/inventory software, which unfortunately led to entry errors on our part on occasion.

As technology advances, thankfully so does accounting software.  Our current software has an e-Business module that integrates the online store directly into the sales order module!  When a customer places an order online all we have to do is approve or deny it and it becomes an order, automatically setting it up for same-day shipping.  (For the curious…the only reason an order would be denied is if your account is inactive due to non-payment…fair enough, right?)

Step One

Easy for us for sure.  How easy is it for you?  Check this out…

1. Go to my.tel-tron.com and login

2. Search by item or click on a category to display all products within that category (wireless, room equipment, most popular, etc.) and click “Go”

3. Enter the desired quantity for each item and click “Buy”

4. After you’ve selected all your items, click “View Cart” and complete the check-out process.  Be sure to click Accept after you’ve reviewed the order so that it sends it to us.

5. You’ll receive an email confirmation stating that we have received your order and that it will be processed as soon as possible unless you hear from us otherwise.

Steps Two and Three

That’s it!  Easy as pie…or child’s play…or tan fácil como 1-2-3 (as easy as 123) as the Spanish say…but I digress.

If you’re already using the online store we thank you!  And we hope you’re enjoying the FREE ground shipping.  If you don’t have access yet please contact Leah Hughes at lhughes@tel-tron.com  and she’d be happy to provide one for you.

Happy Shopping!

How Long Should Emergency Call Systems Last?

Forever.  Not really, but that is probably the only answer any buyer wants to hear.  These are technically advanced systems, so a multi-decade expectation is probably not realistic anymore.  That kind of thinking is a throwback from the days that emergency call systems were nothing more than a light bulb and a switch.

“It’s just not right that after just buying your systems 12 years ago we should have to spend money to upgrade them to the latest and greatest.  The whole emergency call industry has us bent over a barrel.  We have to have these systems, and you force us to upgrade them.”  — Actual conversation with the CEO of a major senior living provider and long term client.  His expectations are common, but not realistic.

So what is a realistic time frame?  And what should senior living operators expect for an End of Life process.  This article will attempt to answer those to questions and others.  I am running a risk here by shattering the dream of some buyers who genuinely think emergency call systems should last for 20+ years (and never need service).  However, candid discussion, and setting realistic expectations is how Tel-Tron has been in business for 65 years and why we still have our first ever senior living customer as a client.  Here it goes:

Product Life Cycle

Senior living operators should expect to get 10 years of performance out of an emergency call system.**  I star this statement because their are many mitigating circumstances that will extend this time period.  But let’s assume for sake of this discussion that no changes or upgrades are made to the system at all during its life.  Why only 10 years?  It isn’t the hardware.

Using rugged design philosophy, level III manufacturing techniques, and high quality components (all of which Tel-Tron does) will result in a system that will function in a perfect, temperature controlled, never touched by a human being environment  for 20-30 years.  We just replaced an old Tel-Tron system at Shellpoint Village that had been installed and working for over 25 years.  It is not the hardware that gives out and requires replacement.

Sure, sometimes components become obsolete and a replacement needs to be sourced. And, occasionally new technology is invented and wipes out an entire design methodology.  This makes continued manufacturing difficult, but won’t cause the system you already purchased to suddenly quit.  Just because they invented high definition TV doesn’t mean your old set will all of a sudden quit working.  That’s Murphy’s law, which is out of human control.  But these and other issues do relate to the primary reason products become obsolete and manufacturers issue “End of Life” notices.  Manufacture-ability and Supportability.

MicroScan System - Introduced in 1982

Manufacture-ability – If new components or technology is invented, the cost of continuing to manufacture the old way eventually becomes prohibitive.  For example, in an older Tel-Tron product we used an EEPROM chip that was less than $1 each.  Today, that same component is $25.  In other cases, it isn’t a matter of expense.  The part is simply unavailable.

Supportability – Take the EEPROM chip example above.  At some point, Tel-Tron was forced to design a new circuit board using a different EEPROM chip, and was required to write new firmware to support the new EEPROM chip.  At the same time we made a few other improvements and released a new product version.  At that instant, we were now supporting two versions of the same product.  In the product design world, that is called legacy product support.  The problem is that while the two products do the same thing (and because we’re good, the new one is also backwards compatible), repair of the old version is not feasible.  Over the course of a decade this process can repeat itself several times and at some point, it is simply too costly to maintain multiple versions of the same product.  This same level of complexity ripples throughout the organization.

Technical support, installation, customer service – even sales – all need to stay aware of product versions and capabilities.  When the weight of maintaining an multi-version, outdated product line is heavier than designing a new platform from scratch, End of Life announcement can’t be far away. Senior living operators deal with this issue all the time in their business.  The product in their world is the physical plant (the building) itself.  How many times have operators looking to grow their business had to make the build/buy decision.  It’s the same concept.

Think of the complexity of owning a senior living building that was built in multiple phases, expansions and refurbishments, over the course of 20 years.  Different electrical systems, wiring standards, wall construction, fire supression systems, hallway widths, etc.  The list is endless.  Every once in a while the decision is made to demo the building and start over.  It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.  Or maybe, like in the case of the Tel-Tron building, entire system are replaced.  We needed a new HVAC unit.  It was so difficult to retrofit to the old ductwork, we ripped out all the ceilings and replaced everything.  Sometimes a new platform is required. Their is no way to avoid an occasional End Of Life event.

Instead, we should focus on how long a product should last from time of purchase until End Of Life, and how the transition handled.  These two areas are a matter of corporate policy and reflect the character of the organization and its leadership.  And…a subject for a future blog post.

Training the Trainer – It’s As Easy as Staying at a Holiday Inn Express

All of the latest and greatest technology, coolest software and state of the art reporting capabilities are nothing more than really expensive paper weights without proper training.  I’m always amazed at how many people think that just because they use something they are somehow now an expert on how to teach other people how to use the product.  The fact that I watch the Daytona 500 every year, drive a car to work, have seven speeding tickets to my name and look great in a fire suit and helmet doesn’t make me a race car driver and it certainly doesn’t make me capable of teaching someone how to drive a race car.  We often get familiar with the products that we use daily, even comfortable.  Our understanding of those products grows the more we use them.  That’s great; we all need to learn more about the tools we use.  The problems start when our confidence exceeds our knowledge.  Knowing how to use a product in a limited scope is far different than understanding a product well enough to teach any user how to use it in any application.  Remember, just because you stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night doesn’t make you a trainer.

One of the traps that non-professional trainers fall into is that they assume everyone uses the product just like they do.  The person that trained them probably felt the same way.  The conclusion of this informal passing down of knowledge is that things get distorted through perceived experience rather than fact.  Observation can be a great tool in understanding something but often a misinterpretation of some coincidental event gets wrapped up into the “myth of operation” that is passed down from person to person until what new employees are learning barely resembles the information that was originally introduced with the new product.  Things get lost in translation, people hear what they want to hear, short cuts are taken and people without a passion or interest in training treat the endeavor accordingly diminishing the product delivered to the people that need it most, the newest members of your team.

How do we combat this?  How can we ensure integrity of the information being disseminated and confirm that the people that need it most not only comprehended what we taught them but also can implement it now?  How can we continue to reinforce these lessons?  How do we keep that base of knowledge growing?  All relative questions that operators deal with everyday, turnover isn’t going away.  Tel-Tron Technologies has a training program called “Train the Trainer” that addresses all of these problems and more.  It’s free to you and our involvement with your team NEVER ends.  We are always there to help you grow and continue to support your onsite trainer provide the best professional training practices to your staff the day they start and reinforce those lessons throughout their careers.  Let’s get down to the details and see how it’s done.

We help identify a trainer at your community if you haven’t already.  Trainers are a special breed and not everyone is right for the job, we can make sure you get the right person in the right spot.  Once we have identified the right person we make sure they have the right material and ensure they use the right process.  We start out by ensuring that five basic concepts are put into practice:

  1. There is a difference between listening and learning!  I see people paying attention almost every time I teach a technical class.  If I’m not on my game, continuously involving the learners then it is almost a guarantee that many won’t be able to retain or use the information I provided in as short a time as an hour later.
  2. Not everybody learns the same way.  Unless you have years of experience and a lot of familiarity with your students your probably won’t be able to figure out how your students learn in enough time to be effective.  Do your students learn better through visual examples, auditory examples or tactile examples?  We teach you to provide examples in all formats and ensure that you have the material, produced and provided by us, the manufacturer, to meet your employees’ needs.
  3. Asking good questions is more important than providing all of the answers.  We help your employees use the Socratic method of critical thinking to ensure that these are lessons truly learned not just taught.  Using a dialectical method that involves discussion and logic rather than a recitation of facts is always more effective for long term retention.
  4. Keep the lectures to an absolute minimum.  Slides too.  We provide you talking points and PowerPoint presentations but more importantly we teach you why you should use them sparingly and how to teach your employees using other medium that are more effective.  Interactive learning, games, role playing and other techniques are at your fingertips and provide a much richer experience for the learner.
  5. It isn’t about what you know but what your students learn.  Proving how smart you are to your audience is not conductive to a great learning environment.  You don’t have to be a college professor with a PhD in a given subject to be a great teacher.  In fact many “teachers” with those credentials are awful.  Focusing on the needs of your students, understanding how they learn and keeping them engaged are far more relevant than your technical base of knowledge.  We help you develop those skills throughout our partnership.

By providing your onsite trainer with the tools they need to be successful and self-reliant your life gets much easier.  Cost of ownership goes down.  Over 80% of all calls to our technical support center are related to operational instruction.  Over half of our onsite service is related to operational misinformation.  Imagine saving 70% of your employees time related to technical issues and 50% of your annual cost on service.  Remember, we provide this service free with every new installation or upgrade.  Consistency of delivery is no longer a problem, we provide you the training materials, hands on tools, DVDs, quick guides, testing materials and online learning services that ensure the technical materials you need to do your job are current and consistent.  We’re with you every step of the way, you’ll have a personal “Train the Trainer” mentor that guides you through the process for as long as you need and is standing right by your side the first time you’re in front of a class.  That’s what a partnership is about and that’s what you get every time you do business with Tel-Tron, your partner for life.  Don’t just take our word for it, listen to what our partners and training participants have to say.

The personal touch

Like everybody else, I am a consumer.  I purchase products from many different companies.  However, as I think about those companies, I can’t say that I have a personal attachment to any of them.  I wouldn’t think twice about buying my next video game from Target instead of Best Buy.  To me, they’re all the same.  All except one.  I am fiercely loyal to Publix, a grocery store chain here in Florida.  I could cut my grocery bill by $20 by shopping at Wal-Mart.  But what sets Publix apart is CJ and Beth.  CJ is the bagger that often bags my groceries.  Beth is a clerk that often rings up my order.  CJ likes to go bowling on Friday and Saturday nights at the local alley.  Beth has a Pomeranian named Felix.  They both greet me warmly and I believe they sincerely mean it when they wish me a good evening.  I’m not the only one who feels that a personal touch makes for a better customer experience.  Here’s one of many articles available online about the topic – http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/104972.

Cheyenne - Tech Support

This same attitude is what you get when you contact Tel-Tron.  This isn’t just a job for us, it’s our career and we enjoy doing it.  We give you plenty of options to contact us – online inquiries, online ordering, email, web cases.  But if you prefer to talk to a person, we’re here for you.

Brooke - Account Support

Brooke will answer virtually any question you have.  She’s getting ready to close on her first home, by the way.

Leah will field all of your invoice and billing questions.  She just had a baby boy.

Damon or I will solve all of your technical woes.  I’m a Wisconsin sports fanatic and Damon is a movie buff.

Damon - Tech Support

Sam might call you for a courtesy call and see if there’s anything you need.  She’s in our Phoenix office and enjoys attending music events.

Sam - Customer Success

We all develop relationships with our customers over time.  You’re not just another customer to us.  We’re your partner in ensuring the life safety of your residents.  We work together to keep your emergency call system working as you need it to work.  We understand how important your nurse call system is to you and why it’s important that it be reliable and running 24 hours a day.  We offer 24-hour emergency technical support.  When you call that number, you’re talking to Damon or me at home, not a call center somewhere else.

Whether you call us, email us, fax us, order online or create a web case online, we’re here for you.

It’s your building. How will you know…..

. . . . if something goes wrong.  

If you are like me, silence is golden.  It means that the world around you is running like it is supposed to.  It means that all of your staff members are operating in full.  – But — What if something isn’t right?  What if your staff screwed up their response to an emergency call last night, but didn’t tell you.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you were alerted?  After all, you are in charge.  

I speak with many executive directors who manage their world with a flow that seems organic in nature.  With the help of a Tel-Tron, enterprise level emergency call system, they are able to do their tasks with the confidence that their staff is working as hard as they are and no stone goes unturned throughout the day.  The Tel-Tron system, alone, does not allow them to achieve this, but it frees up their mind from worrying about one small problem that comes with life threatening consequences. 

 From time to time, all of the staff is tied up with other functions and an emergency call may take longer to respond than normal.  Nobody likes to talk about it, but it is a reality.  Sometimes, things go haywire. 

The calm, cool and collected ED has a notification set up in Auditrak that sends a message if that e-call is not re-set within 7 minutes or what ever time frame is appropriate.  This is the time when the ED wants to be involved.  That Ed may go the entire day or week and never have contact with the wireless emergency call system that was installed in the building.  However, when things go wrong, it’s time to act. 

Daily Summary Report - Emailed Automatically

The Tel-Tron Auditrak management reporting tools are especially valuable for the corporate Director of Nursing or Chief Operating Officer.  Again, a silent nurse call system means that emergency calls and personal emergency response calls are getting their responses in a timely manner.  It means there is nothing to worry about in that one small category of their lives.  In short, it means the people that they have spent time and money to hire and train are doing their jobs.  Of course, the COO is not going to run and respond when his/her Iphone starts beeping with a text or email that alerts of the situation, but they will know that something is off and perk their ears up to pay attention.  Maybe repeatedly late e-call responses are a signal that more training is needed? 

That is what the Auditrak event notification system is all about.  Whether it is a late response to an emergency call or a low battery condition in a wireless call station, Auditrak is customizable for the user.  A Tel-Tron emergency call system is not only used to notify the staff when there is an emergency.  It is used to notify management when something in their world has gone wrong. 

Does your nurse call system, call bell system, emergency call system, wireless emergency call system, or personal emergency response system, (PERS) Notify You?

Tel-Tron Technologies: Proudly Made in the USA

“Made in the USA”

Tel-Tron Technologies - Made in the USA

So I’m sitting on my couch this Memorial Day and it occurs to me being “Made in the USA” means more than a label on the bottom of a toy, although even finding one of those is becoming less and less likely without really making an effort to make that choice.  America’s rich tradition in manufacturing lives on at places like Holgate toys, Orb Audio and Tel-Tron Technologies.  Now I’m obviously a little partial to things “Made in the USA”, I don’t own a foreign car and I do my best to buy products that are made here or at least have an investment in our nation’s success.  I also get to choose where I work and what that says.  I work for Tel-Tron for a lot of reasons; one of them is that it’s an American owned and operated company.  I’ve worked for some pretty big technology companies in the past and the difference between an American owned company and foreign owned and operated company can be quite different when it comes to culture, decision making process and service.  Even taking small parts of your business and moving them offshore can prove to be an alienating and frustrating experience for business partners and customers.

Imagine that your new emergency call system is made by a company like ChinaCorp Healthcare Systems and you’ve been buying these systems for years, as a matter of fact you just put them in your new flagship community and proudly display your use of their product on your corporate website.  As luck would have it three years ago the manufacturer of your emergency call systems, China Corp Healthcare Systems had problems meeting their government mandated margins so they stopped their once semi-rigorous testing process in order to push more product out the door faster.  ChinaCorp Healthcare Systems makes lots of things; they also make defibrillators, thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs for the waiting room.  As the emergency call systems are rushed off of the assembly line and boxed so that resources can be diverted to the outgoing defibrillators twenty customers were just shipped the liability of a lifetime.  Nothing was tested, even though ChinaCorp Healthcare just started getting new memory chips from a new vendor.  Nothing was tested, even though their plant flooded last month and hadn’t been inspected or recertified by any regulatory agency.  Nothing was tested.

Things seem to be going pretty well it’s been a few years and no one has noticed any problems with ChinaCorp Healthcare’s new emergency call systems.  It’s Friday, because this sort of thing always happens on Friday, the phone rings and the IT administrator for your company calls and says there is a problem with the emergency call systems at your properties.  It’s “just stopped working” and it seems to have happened at three or four communities at once, he thinks you’d better get down there.

It’s the memory chip from the new vendor; it’s failed in fifty percent of systems.  ChinaCorp found out about it last month, they’ve been working on a new source for the problematic memory chips; the old vendor is making hard drives now.  They think they can have some replacements made in about four weeks and then there’s that six weeks to ship them here, by boat.  No ChinaCorp Healthcare doesn’t have an Engineer that can come over and take a look, no they don’t care that you’re inconvenienced, no they can’t find a temporary solution, no they don’t care when you talk to their technical support representative in Malaysia and get the runaround instead of the truth about what is happening.  As you contemplate the next ten weeks of operations, having to run your communities without emergency call systems it washes over you.  You remember when this happened last year it was a similar problem with your computer, it was a bad memory chip, you called Dell and they were there on Saturday, new chip, computer working.  I should have bought “Made in the USA”.  Here’s a link to a pro manufacturing in China blog, even pro outsourcing advocates understand the risk and difficulty of manufacturing goods in China and ensuring the quality is acceptable.

“Made in the USA” has always been synonymous with Made with Pride.  Nothing has changed.  I see the rigor with which Tel-Tron employees ensure the quality and reliability of their products every day.  It’s a level of dedication and loyalty that is hard to find.  I’ve seen our company make mistakes, it’s what happens after the mistake that differs us from ChinaCorp Healthcare.  We have integrity that doesn’t waiver.  Every product is “Made in the USA” and because we take pride in that, it has to mean more than where the equipment is manufactured.  Yes it’s manufactured here, yes it’s designed here, yes it’s supported here but so what, how does that make us any better than the next guy?  It’s a matter of pride, ownership and commitment.  It’s the ability to respond to an assembly line problem immediately, not weeks later.  We walk through our manufacturing floor every day.  We use the products that came off of the line every day.  We hold ourselves accountable and take pride in what we produce every day.

If you have ever bought an emergency call system from a company like ChinaCorp Healthcare then you have probably never met their CEO.  Their executive staff is probably never in your buildings.  The people that actually make the equipment that you count on to protect and even save lives is likely made by people that have no idea what the culture in your community is like, the pressure to never miss a call, the look of disappointment in the family members of those we have been entrusted to protect when their “widget” fails.  Our manufacturing team understands the nature of our partnership; they have spent time in your communities.  They understand that they are charged with manufacturing a product that they would trust to save their own mother’s life.  I doubt that anyone at ChinaCorp Healthcare has a family member in your community.  My grandmother passed away of natural causes in one of your communities, it had a Tel-Tron emergency call system.  She used it often and without fail.  My story isn’t unique.  Over half of our senior management team has had a loved one under our joint care; in your community and using our emergency call system.  We all sleep well every evening.  We know that we’re right around the corner.  We know that there are no lengths that we won’t endeavor to ensure that safety of or our charges.  We take pride in what “Made in the USA” means and we ensure that pride is reflected in the quality of every product, installation and customer interaction.

Why 312 MHz Kicks Butt for Senior Living Emergency Call Systems

When it comes to resident life safety, why would you take a chance having your wireless emergency call fail due to radio interference or being blocked by common building materials? Activate a Tel-Tron pendant or wireless pull cord and rest assured, your emergency call will get through, and help is on the way.  Unlike many of our competitors who use 2.4 GHz technology, Tel-Tron uses 312 MHz which is absolutely the best technology for penetrating building materials and is essentially free of interference from other transmitters operating at the same frequency.

Recently, I was surfing the web on my laptop at my son’s apartment as dinner was being prepared.  I noticed every time the microwave oven was being used in the kitchen my internet connection stalled.  In case you don’t know, the 2.4 GHz frequency spectrum is littered with intentional and unintentional transmitters – 802.11 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, microwave ovens, security cameras, cordless phones, baby monitors, etc. I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world some of our competitors could offer emergency call transmitters based on 2.4 GHz with all that potential interference out there. So-called, “Wi-Fi pollution” is an especially well-known problem in high-density areas such as large resident complexes with many Wi-Fi access points (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_interference_at_2.4_GHz).

In stark contrast, Tel-Tron wireless emergency call transmitters (pendants, wall-mounted call stations, etc.) operate at 312 MHz; far, far away from all that 2.4 GHz pollution.  Except for just a few garage door openers on the market (which operate very infrequently and are not likely to be near your residents), there is no comparable 312 MHz pollution.

And then there’s the issue of penetration. With all other things being equal, as frequency increases, range decreases.  This is most evident inside buildings, because higher-frequency radio waves are more vulnerable to absorption by building materials (such as drywall and concrete), and because higher frequencies are more directional (less apt to bend around corners).  Take a look at the engineering data graphic below that shows how much better lower frequencies penetrate reinforced concrete.  Sound waves share this transmission characteristic with radio waves: think how easily you can hear your neighbor’s low-frequency bass boom through your walls, but not the higher-frequency instruments or vocals.

Q: “Wait a minute Buddy … don’t some Tel-Tron products also utilize 2.4 GHz wireless technology?”

A: Yes we do, but not for resident emergency calls!  Rather, we embrace 2.4 GHz for our wireless high-speed network backbone whereby we use a fully-supervised “self-healing mesh” to contend with all the Wi-Fi pollution (our mesh approach is described here: https://blog.tel-tron.com/2010/05/15/network-heal-thy-self/.  The critical difference is that our pendants and wireless pull cords upload emergency call alerts to the network backbone using 312 MHz, not 2 GHz; residents are using the best-of-breed technology to make sure their emergency call penetrates though floors and walls and is not trounced by a Wi-Fi surfer or a rogue microwave oven.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that many of our competitors use 900 MHz for their wireless emergency nurse call systems.  That certainly is not as bad as 2.4 GHz.  Still, there are tons of 900 MHz cordless phones, wireless speakers, wireless headsets, etc. out there that clutter that frequency band too.  To attempt to compensate for losses and interference from other devices, they typically opt to transmit at higher power levels. Again, why not use “quiet” 312 MHz which is essentially interference-free and has the best wall/floor penetration, and gives you the greatest peace of mind?

Throw out that PC based system and get in the CLOUD!

Once upon a time, senior living communities paid someone to be at the front desk 24 hours a day.  They did this because the emergency call system consisted of a panel of lights and buzzers mounted on the wall.  If a resident needed help, a light would turn on and a buzzer would sound.  Someone had to be within earshot of this panel at all times, or calls for help would go unanswered.  Once they heard it, though, alerting the care givers that someone needed help was another inefficient and labor intensive task.

When Tel-Tron introduced pocket paging to the wireless emergency system call industry (100 years ago…) both problems were solved.  Care givers wore pagers and were alerted right away when a resident needed help.  This eliminated the need for panels of lights and buzzers, and the need to pay someone to watch them 24 hours a day.  This was a transformation of the way senior living providers operated their buildings and provided care to their residents.  Really, it would be hard to imagine not having pagers or some other mobile staff device today.

Portion of Auditrak Dashboard

What does this have to do with cloud computing?  Everything.  When Tel-Tron introduced Auditrak.com, another senior living transformation began.  With the release of the ethernet gateway for our CompanionOne product line, Tel-Tron’s nurse call system has completed it’s migration to the cloud.  What is the cloud and how does it help senior living, you ask?  Let me explain. (click here for the wikipedia definition)

In the pocket paging example above, people were slaves to the front desk, because that is where the alarm panel was located.  The “data” they needed to respond to resident emergencies was accessible from only one place – the front desk.  The same is true on PC based system today.

System programming information, resident usage metrics, audit trail reports, maintenance notifications, resident check-in data, even changing resident pendant codes is all located, stored and managed from the personal computer located on-site.  You have limited or no access to that data or functionality from outside the building.  You have limited or no way to keep all of that data backed up on a real time basis.  You have limited or no way to integrate that system with other systems located outside of the facility, such as your accounting, or resident management software.

Worst of all…..Once you buy a computer based system, you are saddled with never ending upgrades, maintenance contracts, having to replace the computer itself every couple years, your staff uses the computer to play games or surf the web (see previous blog about that particular nightmare), Microsoft changes operating systems routinely, loss of functionality during a power outage…  Really, the list of downside risks to a PC based system are endless.  What’s the answer?

Enter the cloud!  Instead of your entire emergency call system being controlled and run by a software program on a local PC, host all of that functionality in the cloud (on the internet).

Your on-site system includes all of the devices in the resident rooms, all of the mobile devices used by the staff, one or more alarm consoles, the wireless or hardwired monitoring infrastructure.  But the activity data, programming information, reporting software, charting and graphing software, trend analysis, and system monitoring is “hosted” offsite.  You access this site through an internet browser like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari.  Which means you do NOT buy a dedicated PC for the emergency call system.  You use any PC (or iphone, blackberry, ipad, etc) you want, from anywhere you want, whenever you want.

  • There is no software to upgrade on site, ever.  The hosted software is always current.
  • You don’t have to keep back-up disks, or tapes on site.  Your data is always on line and backed-up continuously.
  • You don’t have to worry about your staff breaking the computer, surfing the web, or otherwise messing up the PC.  Because THERE ISN”T ONE.  I know this is a mental leap.  But it is literally transformational to the industry.  Senior living CTO’s, IT managers, even maintenance people are loving the fact that their systems no longer are PC based or dependent.

Sample Report of All Alarms with a "Resident Wait Time" of more than 10 minutes

In addition, once your secure data is in the cloud, you don’t need to run reports any longer.  Establish operating parameters and reports will be automatically sent to you (or anyone else) whenever something occurs outside those parameters.  Two small examples:  Many Executive Directors get a report emailed to them every morning listing any emergency call where the resident’s wait time was longer than 10 minutes.  Regional Operations Directors have this same report sent to them monthly for all communities in their territory.  Regional Maintenance Directors get a weekly report automatically emailed to them of all system trouble items that have occurred, and not resolved in the appropriate time.  I know, that was three examples, but the possibilities are endless.

Last one..any notification can be sent via email, or text message.  Some Operations Vice Presidents want to know right away if there is an elopement activity such as a window alarm, or “screen removed” alarm in an memory impaired section.  Elopement is a big deal these days and an early heads-up is helpful.

I know this is a lot to take in and understand, but having your emergency call systems data hosted and managed in the internet cloud, means a whole lot less headache for on-site staff related to computers, and an almost limitless opportunity for growth and integration in the future.  Just as pagers changed the industry in the late 80s, cloud computing will change senior living over the next few years.  Just browse on over to Auditrak.com and you’ll see what I mean.

I didn’t talk specifically about this, but having a single hosted location for systems data and management is exponentially more valuable if a senior living operator has multiple sites.

One day we’ll look back and say…”Remember when we used to have a PC run our emergency call systems.  How did we ever survive?”

Enough Already. The PC has to go!

Dig hole in sand....Insert head!

All you have to do is read words in this picture, which was taken by one of our salespeople when touring a community that just installed a new emergency call system from a competitor.  WOW!  I cannot believe that someone would actually write that memo – clearly aware of the implications of not obeying – and think that just writing a note makes everything OK.

IT’S NOT OK!   You are tasked with making sure that a resident’s call for help gets answered.  And for lots of reasons, including this one, a personal computer is a completely inappropriate engine for an nurse call system.  In case you can’t read the picture, here is what it says.

“Please do not use this computer to go onto the internet.  This computer runs our nurse call system and is vitally important.  Thanks, Jane.”

Jane – Rather than writing a memo, you should have thrown that system out and replaced it with one that is not computer based.  Can any of you think of a single system that is a life safety device that runs on a Windows computer?  Please leave a comment to this post if you can.

Defibrillators? No.  Airplane Avionics?  No.  Dialysis Equipment? No.  Automobile Electronics?  No.

When you hear about someone who is on “life support,” do you think it would be wise to have that equipment run by a Windows computer?  No way.  So why is it OK to put the lives of senior living residents in the temperamental control of a Windows personal computer?  Short answer….It isn’t!  They freeze up.  They need rebooting.  Software needs updating.  They aren’t battery backed up for longer than a few minutes.  Really the list is endless.

Staff can close the program.  Staff can turn them off (on purpose, or on accident).  And, as in the case captured in this picture, staff can browse the internet while calls for help go unanswered.  It simply isn’t necessary.

On an enterprise quality nurse call system, the main servers, switches, routers and gateways use embedded systems, industrial microcontrollers, sophisticated power supplies, elaborate supervision and battery back-up methodologies.  There are design tolerances measured in sub-1% range.  User GUIs are browser based and access data on the system, but do not control the system.  Visit Auditrak.com, for an example of a killer call system GUI that resides in the cloud.

As I looked at the picture in the beginning of this article, I was so frustrated at the lack of seriousness with which Jane took her role as caregiver.  In fairness, Jane probably did not select that system.  Someone at her corporate office, who doesn’t have to respond to an emergency call – ever – probably picked it as a result of their beauraucratic purchasing system.  Still…the kind of compromise and accommodation Jane is forced into is simply not necessary.  There are other options.

Wireless Network….Heal Thy Self!

Every time I hear someone say “wireless emergency call systems are pretty much all the same” it makes my want to pull my hair out.  While it is true that many systems have a similar mission, there are very few similarities in how the mission gets

Click here for a tutorial

 accomplished.  Here is a HUGE, IMPORTANT, SIGNIFICANT, FUNDAMENTAL, MEANINGFUL  example.  Enough emphasis?

On most wireless networks used for emergency call systems, if one access point (transceiver) fails, YOU LOSE EVERY OTHER RECEIVER DOWN LINE.  That’s because signals “hop” from one transceiver to the next all the way back to the computer.  Any break in the chain and the call for help goes unanswered.  GOOD ENOUGH for email, surfing the web, etc.  BAD IDEA when the data being transmitted is a person’s call for help.

That is why Tel-Tron never designed an emergency call system using the point-to-point wireless networking scheme described above.  In 2008, we released our version of a wireless network using what is called a “Self Healing, Wireless Mesh Network.” Translation:  If any access point fails, the downline access points can automatically reroute.  The network self-heals.  And, since all Tel-Tron systems are fully supervised, the system will alarm and display which access point has failed.  As of this writing, no other company is offering this level of wireless network service.  (No other company designs and manufactures their own wireless products…..but that is a post for another time.)  For a neat flash based tutorial on this topic, please click here.

Even the chip manufacturer was impressed, and published a “Customer Success Story” on our implementation. Check it out.

I suppose a rough analogy is the difference between run-flat tires and standard tires.  With a standard tire, if you get a flat your trip is over until you change the tire.  With a run-flat tire, if you get a flat, you are notified, but your trip is uninterrupted.  That kind of safety and redundancy seems like a great idea if you were a woman driving alone at night through a sketchy part of town on your way home.  Or, if you were a senior living resident who was counting on your call for help getting answered.

There are hundreds of differences like this between wireless nurse call system providers.  So, no, emergency call systems are not all “pretty much the same.”

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Never Miss a Staff Rounds Check Again!

Many senior living operators have a problem.  There staff is supposed to be checking on certain residents on a regular basis, but there is no way to prove that it was actually done.   A quick software upgrade to your Tel-Tron emergency call system and you can guarantee that you will never miss a room check again.

Simply install a “staff check-in” device in each area where the staff is supposed to show up.  Tell the software how often a staff person is supposed to be in that area (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.).  If the staff check-in device is not used in the time window you set-up, an alert will be displayed on the system, alerting management and staff that a check-in has been missed.

For example….Let’s suppose that you are supposed to be doing 2 hour room checks in your dimentia units.  First, you install a “staff-check” button in each unit.  Then, you tell the system (through the software) that each unit should have a staff visit every two hours.  Now, let’s pretend that it has been two hours and no one has pressed the “staff-check” device in Mrs. Smith’s room.  You will get an alarm on your system – pagers, console, text message – whatever — that says “Two Hour Check Missed – Mrs. Smith, Room 1.”  The only way to clear that alert is to actually go to Room 1 and press the staff-check button.

No one likes to talk about it, but every manager knows that FORCED COMPLIANCE with policies and procedures is the best way to make sure the appropriate actions are taken.   With “Staff Check-In” activated in your community, you can be sure that all of your rounds are being completed.

(You can use this for building rounds at night, too.  Put a staff-check button in hallways, libraries, laundry rooms, or anywhere you want your staff to be on a regular basis.  Then tell the system how often they should be there and you can be SURE that your staff did what they were supposed to do).

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