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.

Troubleshooting 101: Solving Tel-Tron Problems Pragmatically

Tel-Tron Troubleshooting 101

There’s really not a special, magical process for troubleshooting your Tel-Tron system. In fact, the same troubleshooting steps used to do so can be applied to solve a variety of day-to-day problems. This month, I’m going to show you how to apply the same steps to troubleshoot two entirely unrelated problems.

Step #1: Verify the problem

dinner party

Problems have a tendency to initially appear worse than they really are. Should one arise, it’s up to you to determine the scope. Once you know what that is, it will make solving the problem much easier.

How this relates to real life:

Let’s say you’ve just held a wonderful dinner party for you and six other friends. Everything has gone just swimmingly. You drank, told tales, and were, by and large, merry. The evening concludes, everyone goes home, and you praise yourself with a mental tip-of-the-hat to your excellently hosted feast. Job well done! But the next day, the rumors begin to circulate. Someone at your party suffered some pretty severe indigestion. You could just ignore these rumors, but that’s probably not a good idea. Your inquisitive nature and your reputation force you to investigate.

Where to start?man with belly ache

Find the source of these rumors, trace them to the alleged inflicted person, and talk to that person directly. Keep the questions simple. “Hey, were you feeling sick after dinner yesterday?” If so, make sure it’s not because of something obvious and unrelated, like getting mild food poisoning from a fast food restaurant they stopped at on the way home because they found your dinner to be “insufficient.”

How this relates to Tel-Tron:

Let’s say you use pagers. Ah Pagers… This mobile notification device gets passed around from person to person more than any other device except, perhaps, staff reset pendants. Lots of different people use them, and the devices see use pretty much from dusk ‘til dawn, then all through the night. Given this high amount of usage, there’s a much better chance of an individual pager failure than there is of system-wide pager system problem. If you begin to hear rumors that your paging isn’t working, my recommendation is not to leap to the conclusion that your paging system is down. Instead, start simple. Track down the person with said non-functioning pager, and verify the problem. Is that pager really not getting pages? Maybe we have a training opportunity here. If it’s really not though, determine if the solution isn’t something simple, such as replacing a low battery–the most common reason for a pager not getting a page.

Step #2: Start gathering more data

A single sample doesn’t tell you a whole lot. What’s one poisoned friend or one bad pager? Certainly not an epidemic! Let’s make sure though. It’s time to investigate further.

How this relates to real life:

Alright, the rumors appear to be true. Your friend has just confirmed that shortly after leaving your party, he came down with a debilitating sickness that has shaken the very fabric of your friendship—and no it wasn’t from a drive-by Taco Bell visit on the way home. Don’t panic. As already noted, it’s just one friend. There’s a good chance your other friends are fine, and that would still leave you with five, which is a pretty good ratio of healthy friends. Still, best make sure this isn’t a widespread problem. Start calling around. Find out who else may be affected, and if so, what he ate. Make some lists. This guy ate this. Did he feel OK? This guy ate that. How’s he feeling? And so on.

How this relates to Tel-Tron:

You’ve found one pager that’s not working, but that doesn’t mean your “paging system is down.” Don’t panic. It’s just one pager. There’s a good chance your other pagers are fine, and that would leave you several other good pagers. (Unless you only have one pager, then don’t panic, but contact us to get you a rush-order on some new pagers.) Still, if that pager isn’t working, gather it from the staff member using it – it’s not doing any good with her anyway if it’s not getting any pages – and start hunting around for another. Find out: are all my pagers affected? If so, which ones?

Step #3: Form a hypothesis

Troubleshooting’s close cousin is the Scientific Method. So yes, you may call yourself “a scientist.” At this step in the troubleshooting process, you hypothesize, based on collected data, a reason for the problem at hand.

How this relates to real life:

You’ve called everyone at the party and discerned that two others had similar indigestion. Not too shabby. You know, for example, that you didn’t poison everyone, so at least one of your dishes was edible. Nicely done! Now to figure out which dish was the culprit. You had a lot of options, but all of your collected data seems to point to the chicken salad. You didn’t have any of it yourself because there was just so much food, and your buddy brought a nacho platter. You just couldn’t resist nachos so you filled up on that and, well, long story short: you didn’t have any chicken salad, and you’re not sick. In fact, the only three people who got sick are also the only three people who ate the chicken salad. Hypothesis: It was the chicken salad, in the dining room, with the salmonella.

biohazard chicken salad

How this relates to Tel-Tron:

You’ve searched around and discovered that two other pagers are also not receiving pages. This is important, because if any one pager gets a page, you know that the “paging system” is not down. The pager transmitter—often called a pager base—has a fire-and-forget mentality. It’s told to send a page, it sends the page, and it doesn’t keep track of which pagers got the page. If, while testing your pagers, even one pager worked, you can be confident that the pager transmitter has done what it was supposed to do. It transmitted. Hypothesis: The “paging system” is fine. You’ve just got three misbehaving pagers.

Step #4: Test and verify your hypothesis

You’ve formed a hypothesis, now it’s time to put it through the wringer.

How this relates to real life:

You’re gripped with this notion that your age-old family recipe for chicken salad has somehow led to a disastrous after party for several of your friends. You have to know for sure. Was it indeed the chicken salad? The only way to find out, obviously, is to have a sample tested. Go home, collect it in a bag and send it off to the crime lab. You know, that crime lab everyone has access to that’s just readily waiting to vindicate poor hosts from harsh accusations of food poisoning? That’s what THIS troubleshooter is recommending. Expect results in six to eight weeks. However, for the sake of fully disclosing ALL of the troubleshooting options, there might be a simpler way. Not that I’m recommending it. You know that annoying guy, the one always sniffing around at lunch looking for freebies? Ask him if he’d like some chicken salad. Homemade. Very fresh. Made just last night.

How this relates to Tel-Tron:

You’ve done some excellent trouble shooting and data collection to this point. As a practicing scientist, you’ve narrowed the problem down to three pagers that seem to be acting up. You’ve also prevented a wide-spread panic by proving that the “paging system” isn’t “down,” but in fact, you’ve just got some bum pagers.
Call tech support!Still, there are a few more things to test. A lot of communities use what’s called “mapping,” so it’s a good idea to double check settings. I’m not going to go into all that here. You’ve done quite a bit of heavy lifting already. Let us help you with this last step. If you’re not sure how to check a pager’s settings, give Technical Support a call. Best case scenario, we’ll get these pagers working! Worst case, we’ll simply re-verify the work you’ve done and come to the same conclusion you have: three bad pagers. While perhaps inconvenient that you’ve got some broken pagers, you should still feel good that you’ve got a handle on things. You figured it out! And you did this all while carrying the soul-crushing guilt of poisoning your friends with bad chicken salad. Well done!

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.”

Tel-Tron Project Management: A Behind the Scenes Look at a Team Devoted to Your System, Satisfaction and Success

Tel-Tron Project Management: A behind the scenes look at a team devoted to your system, satisfaction and success

During my career here at Tel-Tron, I have held a few different positions. As much as things have changed for me personally, a single philosophy has always stayed the same­ —ensure that our customers have the confidence that they can rely on their emergency call systems to save lives, every day. Most recently, I have had the privilege to work with the Project Management department, a team of dedicated people who prove their devotion to this philosophy day in and day out. I have witnessed many projects through all stages, from the time they are sold to our customers to years after they have been in use.

I’d like to take you behind the scenes, to give you a glimpse of all of the important work to which we devote our time and energy for the benefit of you, our customers.

Working With You

Our Tel-Tron Project Managers are professional, experience individuals focused on your success. Tel-Tron Project Managers are the great group of guys responsible for installing and maintaining your Tel-Tron solution. And whether it’s getting extra or replacement parts sent overnight, working with technical support and engineering, or something or as simple as looking up phone numbers, the project management staff have a supportive, and equally dedicated, team behind them.

Planning and Preparing

Our project managers develop close relationships with our customers since they often spend the most face-to-face time with them. Because of this, we feel personal responsibility to our customers and their residents. The interactions project managers have with residents are typically brief, but tend to be the most memorable to them, and stick in their mind. It’s ultimately the residents that we are all serving, and why we take the time to make sure every device works properly so that your staff receives each and every emergency call.

From the moment an emergency call system is sold, our project management staff begins making contact with the customer, assuring them that we are preparing for and looking forward to taking on their project. Since there are usually several prerequisite items that we need before we can properly install a system, so we rely heavily on the commitment and cooperation of our customers in the planning and preparation for a project. These items are requested of the customer before or during our Kick-Off Meeting.

Kick-Off Meeting

Kick-Off Meetings are designed to bring everything to the table regarding the upcoming installation of a system. More importantly, this meeting is to set the stage for the entire project, by setting expectations for obstacles, benefits, and features, as well as training and support during the life of the system.

Our customers don’t always understand the purpose of this meeting and the value can sometimes be difficult to articulate. But during the meeting, we ask important questions to make sure that the end result is what our customer is expecting. Issues that no one anticipated can come up in this meeting, which results in the reevaluation of products, protocol, and/or timelines. Regardless of the issue, we always resolve it quickly to ensure the installation will have your desired outcomes.

Installation

For weeks prior to your installation, the Tel-Tron project management team is reviewing, researching, discussing, and verifying everything about your project. They are well-versed in what and where product is to be installed, as well as many other intimate details about your community and the residents you care for.

A Tel-Tron Project Manager Assists a Customer with Installation

Once the product shipment arrives, the installation is ready to begin. You are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Tel-Tron project manager you spoke with during the Kick-Off Meeting. As soon as he arrives, he and his team get to work, moving swiftly around your community installing product, testing the system, and training you and your staff. As quickly as the time came, the time has now passed, and your system is now fully-installed and you are now saying goodbye with handshakes, smiles and maybe a hug. You’re excited about how much easier your life and the lives of your staff and residents will be.

Post-Installation

The project management team discusses your project immediately after installation to review any and all aspects of the project. We discuss issues that may have caused difficulty, in order to learn and improve our processes.

We as a team continuously talk about new ways of installing our product to create the best outcomes. Whether it’s the best position of a wireless device on a door, or where in a resident unit is the most convenient and effective location for product placement, our team never stops thinking of new ways to improve what we do when serving you and your residents.

Feedback

We often hear positive comments on the project managers’ performance and how their work has improved the resident’s quality of life as well as the staff’s work experience. These comments give our project managers a deep sense of satisfaction, knowing that their efforts have made an impact in saving a life.

As one of the many people behind our great project management team, I am always proud when I hear a happy customer rave about the terrific experience they’ve had. We want to hear from you! If you have had a noteworthy experience with our project management team, or have any questions or suggestions for us, please let us know.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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