Volara Enables Video Calling and More on the Google Nest Hub Max in 300+ Senior Living Communities and 9,000 Residents’ Apartments Across the US and UK

New York — The social isolation required by the lingering pandemic has proven to trigger loneliness and depression among older people. To mitigate the impact of this forced separation on seniors living in affordable housing, assisted living, and independent living communities, Volara has embarked on a mission to enable a commercially viable solution that connects seniors living in residential communities to their loved ones using technology. Nine thousand Google Nest Hub Max devices — featuring 10-inch touchscreen displays, two-way Google Duo video calling, support for eight languages, and a hearing-impaired mode — have been enabled for residents living at 300+ leading senior residential communities across the United States and United Kingdom.

The Google devices are provisioned, set up, powered, and supported by Volara, the largest provider of enterprise-grade voice assistant solutions that is perhaps best known in the senior living industry for its Technology Concierge Membership Program. Volara connects each device to the residents’ WiFi (making setup hassle free) and adds all personal calling contacts on behalf of the residents so they can begin video calling by voice command within seconds after receiving the solution. By simply saying “Hey Google, call my daughter,” or “Hey Google, play I love Lucy,” or “Hey Google, what’s the weather forecast today,” seniors have instant access to people, entertainment, and information without having to look up a phone number, connect an account, or remember a thing. The breadth of rich content available to residents just by asking spans residents’ diverse passions, including health and fitness, music, film, news, religion, games, cooking and more.

The senior living organizations pioneering this voice technology effort include: Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, Eden Housing, Eskaton®, Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, HumanGood, Merrill Gardens, National Church Residences, Nicholas James Care Homes (UK), Oakland Care (UK), Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, SPM Property Management, St. Luke’s Hospital (UK), TELACU, Volunteers of America, and Watermark Retirement Communities, among others. Each of these trailblazing organizations are seeing tremendous engagement, with residents sending letters of thanks to administrators noting:

“The world to me was black and white; now it is in technicolor because of Volara and Google.”

“This is the best technology I ever used! I was able to see the face of my newborn grandson for the first time, and he lives on the East coast.”

“Finally, I look forward to getting out of bed every day because I know I can talk to my granddaughter.”

“Volara has been deploying enterprise grade voice assistant solutions in hotels, retail outlets and airports for several years,” said Volara CEO David Berger. “When COVID-19 hit, we became concerned about the impact of forced isolation on seniors and knew we could provide a solution. We became hyper focused on enabling as many seniors as possible to communicate with their children, grandchildren, doctors, and clergy face to face just by uttering a simple voice command.

“Through a collaborative effort with industry groups including CDW Healthcare, LeadingAge, the Lighthouse for Older Adults project, and Google, we were able to bring new technologies to bear, bring the product to market, and scale deployment in a matter of a few months,” he said. “Our cost-effective solution — providing hassle free implementation and measurable impact — was immediately welcomed and adopted by so many caring senior living organizations that for a time we had to stop accepting new clients. Seniors are hungry for the benefits of technology, and the forced social isolation due to the pandemic only deepened their interest.”

Senior Living Community Leaders Speak Out
“Technology’s potential to positively impact older adults’ lives and well-being is broad and deep. We know this from both our members, who provide care to residents and clients nationwide, as well as through the work of LeadingAge’s Center for Aging Services Technology, which partners with vendors, researchers, and providers to expedite the use of emerging tech to improve the aging experience. Our partnership with Volara, the solution provider that customizes, deploys, and manages the Google Nest Hub Max devices for use in affordable housing communities, is a terrific example of the technology’s benefits as well as of the continued need for our advocacy. We must ensure older adults have access to Internet service and devices so they can take advantage of the telehealth revolution and protect themselves from the ravages of social isolation.”
Katie Smith Sloan, President and CEO, LeadingAge

“We are proud to be among the first senior living providers to formally test Google Nest Hub Max devices provisioned by Volara. We had a singular objective: to use this technology to connect residents to their families, friends, and loved ones through the devices’ video calling feature. By that measure, we were hugely successful. The video conferencing feature of the Google Next Hub Max combined with Volara’s ability for us to connect residents to the outside world was powerful.

“If there’s one thing COVID taught us it’s that voice-based technology has a positive impact on senior’s lives. Therefore, we must go faster and get more devices into more residents’ hands. It’s not the technology itself that is exciting, but how Volara was able to personalize it to make it easy for seniors to engage. They made it extremely easy for residents to connect with the devices and have an instant video experience.”
Davis Park, Vice President, Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing

“The Volara component is extremely easy to use. It immediately increases the digital literacy of seniors and their social connectedness. Volara made it possible for our residents to just take the Google Nest Hub Max out of the box, plug it in, and use it right away. This has been a positive experience.

“Together Volara and Google are giving our residents immediate access to their friends and family, their personal healthcare providers, our staff, and their peers throughout the residential community. If we have information for a senior, we can connect with them via the Google device rather than making them come down to the office; this is huge if the resident has mobility issues. The large video screen enables us to see the resident face to face and it resolves issues they may be having quicker. And I’ve got to say, it is a lot of fun! It brings a lightheartedness to everyone during this stressful time.”
Elaine Brattin, Planning Associate, Strategy, Eskaton

Merrill Gardens initially deployed over 850 Google Nest Hub Max devices to pilot at six of our Washington-based Independent Living and Assisted Living Communities to determine if the technology — provisioned and powered by Volara — could help residents fight social isolation. We were pleasantly surprised that the program was a huge success! We went into the trial thinking this could be a hit but not to the extent that it was. From the moment our residents were introduced to the device, it just clicked with them. Little to no training was needed. They just had to say: ‘Hey Google, call so-and-so’ and they were connected via video screen to someone by just talking. It was so easy. The biggest hurdle was getting them over the fear of trying it. But when the pandemic hit and residents were quarantined to their rooms, they were willing to do just about anything to connect with loved ones. Volara + Google is a BIG hit.

“Volara went above and beyond in making their software simple to use. There are no accounts to sign in to or passwords to remember. They knew any level of difficulty, no matter how small, would result in our seniors refusing to engage. Each device was pre-set by Volara in guest mode, so it was truly plug and play. Volara provides wonderful support. It’s the type of relationship you expect to have with a technology partner. We have weekly meetings to discuss issues, concerns, or updates. Fortunately for us, there has not been a single negative situation since the technology was deployed.”
— Dalen Newton, IT Program Manager, Merrill Gardens

“We were introduced to Volara through LeadingAge. We deployed 500 Google Nest Hub Max devices, all of which continue to be used today. With a portfolio as large as ours, deploying this number of units could have been problematic if it were not for Volara. They pre-configured each device and provided simple instructions for our staff and residents to follow. It has been a complete ‘hands-off’ experience for our IT department, and we sincerely appreciate that. If anyone calls me for help with the Google device, I simply refer them to Volara. Their team can assist with any questions remotely, so we do not need to go into each apartment to configure the devices. It’s a solid relationship.

“PVM is a company that places a lot of attention on delivering specialty services to residents that they will not find elsewhere. Safety and security are top of mind, and we look for technologies that are cutting edge, like voice command devices and video streaming. We want our residents to have these leading-edge experiences to keep them free from social isolation. At PVM we are one big family, and the interconnectivity that Volara brings with the Google Nest Hub Max is improving life and bringing better experiences to those who use it.”
Mark Kronner, Chief Technology Officer, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan
“The residential experience with the Google Nest Hub Max deployment by Volara has been amazing. We have placed the devices in every room at our care homes. What a difference they have made; we often see residents dancing to music, playing games, and watching old TV shows via the YouTube channel. Seniors are smiling again. The technology is brilliant for residents, and a tremendous help to families. Our residents love the Google devices, and we love the service we receive from the entire Volara team. The relationship is superb.

“Ideally, we would like to bring this technology to all residents in all our care homes. Volara made it so easy for us to set up and for our people to use. If anyone’s contact information changes, Volara makes the updates in minutes. Like with any technology, there was some hesitation to use it, especially among the dementia patients. But our managers sat down with them and it is tremendous that they are using it with total ease. The resident’s families are absolutely thrilled. What more could we hope for?”
Nicola Wilcock, Client Manager, Nicholas James Care Homes

“Watermark creates extraordinary communities where people thrive, and we are committed to innovations and amenities that promote healthy aging. Our 65 senior living communities coast to coast provide a lifestyle built on choice with a focus on integrative wellness. During the pandemic we were committed to keeping our residents connected to their families and friends and the Volara platform was integral to our success. A group of residents from The Fountains at La Cholla were the first to receive the Google Nest Hub Max devices with customization features added. We knew the technology would be ideal for voice-activated video calls, but we were pleasantly surprised to see just how many seniors engage with it to listen to their favorite music, check weather and look up the dining offerings for the day. We are excited about the long-term value of this technology and others which create connection and engagement, for all Watermark residents.”
Tammy Farris, Director of Strategic Innovation, Watermark Retirement Communities

“The biggest challenge that the senior residents of St. Mary’s faced since the pandemic is social isolation. They had to transition from eating meals communally in the dining room to eating alone in their apartments. The fraternization between staff and residents and residents with each other is gone. All social programs, religious services, and shuttle busses that took residents off premises has stopped. Our seniors went from having robust entertainment and exercise offerings to having nothing. Life was difficult until Volara stepped in. Now, through the Google Nest Hub Max devices, there is no longer a lack of human interaction. They can use the device to partake in Zoom services and have video calls with their families, friends and even doctors. It’s been a wonderful experience.

“Volara has been wonderful to work with. The vast amount of work they had to do on the back end to make this a simple plug-and-play experience on the front end is amazing. When we make a change request or need to add a contact, the information is uploaded instantly. We never have to wait, and that means our residents do not have to wait to call a loved one or speak to a doctor. Volara’s customer service is so seamless and painless; too bad I cannot get that type of responsiveness from the cable company. We tip our hats to Volara for their professionalism and dedication.”
Linda Kangus, Administrative Assistant, St. Mary’s Court, SPM Property Management

“The pandemic put a spotlight on the digital inequity for our residents. When they received the Google devices, it brought balance by giving digital access to everyone with WiFi. This is a BIG deal. If you are someone who lives in affordable housing, having access to technology is a challenge. Not only is it nearly impossible to afford but learning how to use it can be extremely frustrating. The Google Nest Hub Max devices managed by Volara are extremely easy to use, more so than a laptop or even a tablet. And because Volara did all the work of uploading each resident’s contacts on the backend, they were able to use it instantly. This was a colossal achievement; everyone with a device felt accomplished and purposeful. It removed the stigma of ‘I’m old, therefore I can’t use technology.’ It’s very inspiring to know there are smiles on our seniors’ faces when they are able to connect with their families through technology. This is opening the doors to so many new possibilities for them; we are confident that our resident/members will continue to embrace technology going forward.

“If there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that technology is helping to fill the void for physical activity, education, social engagements, and also providing services like online shopping. Our members are ordering pizzas … they are looking up recipes … and watching how-to craft videos. Not only are we connecting people to medicine and a social network, but Volara and Google are giving our members entertainment — residents at one co-op had their first virtual bingo session last week and it was a blast! We can’t thank them enough.”
Anne Sackrison, Chief Operating Officer, CSI Support and Development

“Since the onset of COVID, Volunteers of America National Services has been focused on alleviating social isolation of residents at our many senior living facilities. The Google Nest Hub Max devices managed for us by Volara are playing a pivotal role in making that happen as it bridges the digital divide between people, social connectivity, and healthcare. This technology is perfectly aligned with the goals of our organization and it is designed to meet the unique needs of our resident population. There are no infrastructure costs or set-up needed on behalf of staff; Volara made sure the devices were plug-and-play to immediately address the issue of social isolation. Not only are residents using the Google devices to video chat with their families, doctors, and clergy, but we are creating YouTube channels for residents to download information specific to their individual needs. And, instead of bringing outside groups in to entertain our seniors, we can connect them virtually to speakers and other organizations that provide education and entertainment while keeping our people safe.

“We are thrilled with the responsiveness of Volara through this partnership. They understand the importance of voice and video technology for interacting with and engaging our residents along their wellness journeys. We couldn’t be happier with how Volara configured the systems and continue to support our seniors and staff. They have truly taken the burden off our shoulders and placed it on their own. Oftentimes when people look at large providers like VOA, they think they have a robust technology infrastructure to support the portfolio. That just isn’t true. We do not have the capacity to roll out solutions like the Google Nest Hub Max devices without partners like Volara.”
Ryan Elza, VP of Innovation and Technology, Volunteers of America National Services

Exceptional Engagement
In addition to the popular video calling feature of the Google Nest Hub Max, seniors are using the device to view rotating images of family or events, listen to their favorite music, access daily news, hear relaxing sounds, enjoy jokes, play games, watch videos, set timers/alarms and more just by speaking simple commands pre-configured by Volara and printed on a one-page, easy-to-read instruction sheet, such as:

“Hey Google, play funny videos on YouTube.”
“Hey Google, what’s the latest news?”
“Hey Google, play jazz.”
“Hey Google, tell me a joke.”
“Hey Google, let’s play a game.”
“Hey Google, play Radio NBC.”

The high level of utilization tells a compelling story:

42% of devices used at least once daily.
Engaged devices had a median of 4 queries daily.
Devices that include custom content about the community — like dining menus and activities calendars — had an average of 3.3 additional engagements daily.
55% of used devices played music/video per day
41% of used devices gave a search/answer per day
27% of used devices made a call per day
Volara’s software is managing more than 100,000 calling contacts for seniors using the devices.

To protect residents’ privacy, Volara and Google ensure that no voice recordings are captured or stored by themselves or senior living community management. The companies have also enabled a “Signed Out” experience that ensures no residents’ personally identifiable information is connected to the devices.

“We’re proud to be partnered with Volara to bring the Google Nest Hub Max to residents of leading senior living communities,” said Heather Clancy, Head of Global Enterprise Partnerships for Devices and Services at Google. “We are heartened by the positive impact our hardware is having on seniors through this partnership. Together with Volara’s software, custom conversation development, and implementation solutions, the potential of the Google Nest Hub Max to be a game changer for the way senior living communities engage with their residents is very real and measurable.”

To see a senior engaging with Google Nest Hub Max powered by Volara, click here. For more information on the Google Nest Hub Max initiative for the senior living industry, visit volara.io.

Creative Collaboration—Hospitality Partnership Results In New Furniture Line For Senior Living

Partnerships between the hospitality design and manufacturing communities have netted plenty of creative solutions in the lodging space over the years, but a recent collaboration could potentially also have a broad impact as it has resulted in a new line of custom furniture for senior living facilities.

Design firm Gensler partnered with The New Traditionalists—a U.S.-based manufacturing, design and engineering company—on the Elevate Collection, which has been touted as an innovative line of furniture that’s aesthetically built and designed specifically for senior living.

During a panel entitled “The New Traditionalists Collaboration 101: Rethinking The Norm For Senior Living” at last week’s HD Expo, the executives primarily involved in the development of the line offered some detail on the collaboration.

Brandon Larcom, director of product development, Gensler, commented. “At Gensler we said, ‘let’s create a line that can stand the test of time that is designed for seniors but really appreciated by everyone.’ Gensler was based on enhancing the human experience and as Philip [Erdoes, founder and CEO, The New Traditionalists] and I spoke a bit, it was aligned with what their vision was as well. How can we take just a traditional line of product and make it something that has research behind it?” he said.

Erdoes, meanwhile, acknowledged his own aging parents were part of the inspiration for the new line. “My rationale for going into it is necessity is the mother of all invention. When I looked around, what I saw was a whole bunch of crap. It was poorly designed and it hadn’t changed since the days of the nursing home. We were trying to figure out ‘can we do something else?’ So we entered the market over a year ago doing some levels of custom design stuff,” he said.

Erdoes later commented on the dearth of product in the senior living market. “I think people want to feel safe but not old, and that’s a hard thing to pull off with the current product lines that are out there…That’s an unfortunate part of the business right now, but that actually provides an opportunity and that’s why we’re here,” he noted.

Larcom further explained, “When Philip and I entered into this collaboration we both had that vision of ‘this is just the beginning of a new style of life, it’s not the end.’ Let’s actually elevate your style. Let’s have those great materials, let’s have something that doesn’t differentiate one [group] from the other and instead brings that full community together, so that was my passion and feeling for this.”

Erdoes noted the new Elevate Collection currently has some seven pieces, while adding, “we’re about to launch the rest of the collection.” He added between another seven to 10 pieces are expected to debut with six more collections around it.

Meanwhile, Larcom called attention to some of the line’s unique qualities, such as the seat height being 19 inches as opposed to the standard 17 inches making it easier for seniors to get in and out of. In addition, he noted the egress of the back of the design is at a 100 degree angle “so that you don’t lean too far back.”

Larcom further commented that seniors naturally tend to segregate as they get older, which the duo tried to address as well.

“As Philip and I connected, we really understood that that was our original goal—to create a collection that would bring different populations together. So in the design there’s a little bit of a workplace bench area which allows for a younger generation to come over and visit their grandparents or their aging family members. But you still need to have that differentiator,” he added.

Erdoes also underscored the need for differentiation, pointing out that often it’s the oldest daughters of parents who are making the decisions with regards to assisted living.

“They will go look at most three, maybe four facilities, and they’re usually pretty close to each other. So if you don’t have a way to differentiate your facility from a design standpoint, then all of a sudden it becomes how many bingo games there are. It’s just kind of all the same, and it becomes a price game. The problem with the price game is there’s no differentiation with that, and it’s a race to the bottom. So what we’re trying to provide is the ability to actually have design differentiation between your locations and other locations,” he stated.

Larcom acknowledged there’s been a shift in senior living to a more diverse age group; therefore any product must have broad appeal. “When we began to design this collection there’s a big difference between someone who’s 65 and someone who’s 80, but they may still like style. How can do you design it so it’s all encompassing? So that was another main focus for this collection,” he commented.

Erdoes finally touted the company’s inherent advantages with manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. “We have a very short supply chain so we can react very quickly for either replacements or of you need us to hold onto something. We find that historically it’s been a bit of a tricky issue for people; sometimes they want it fast, sometimes they don’t. But for us from a construction standpoint and an operational standpoint, we’re set up to actually address this market way differently than anyone else right now,” he concluded.

RCare’s Rapid Deployment Kit Fills Nurse Call Need for UMass Temporary Hospital

The Challenge:
UMass Memorial Hospital had a problem. At the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, it was being flooded with patients, and needed to expand capacity, fast.

The Solution:
To convert the 50,000 square foot Exhibit Hall of the DCU Center, a convention center and arena, into a “pop-up” temporary field hospital, to handle the overflow of patients.

The Timeline:
They had just ten days. They finished in eight.

The Story:
The DCU Center is an indoor arena and convention center in downtown Worcester, MA. In April, its Exhibition Hall was converted to a field hospital to help nearby UMass Memorial Hospital handle the overflow of COVID-19 patients, those sick enough to require hospitalization, but not sick enough to require ICU care or a ventilator. It was repurposed to act as both a field hospital led by UMass, and a shelter for homeless people who tested positive for the disease.

Despite the unconventional setting, with its many challenges, the quality of care needed to be top-notch, and that included the nurse call system. It had to be quick to install, and completely reliable, because lives would depend on it.

Signet Electronic Systems, a trusted RCare integrator, used RCare’s Rapid Development Kit (RDK) nurse call solution to help UMass create the temporary hospital. The installation was quick, smooth and successful.

Signet has a long-standing relationship with UMass Memorial Health Care. It installs the majority of the beds in both of their Worcester campuses as well as satellite locations, with high-end wired nurse call solutions, in addition to managing other systems such as public address and master clocks. They knew they could count on RCare for a solution that works.

Rapid Deployment Kit nurse call system includes a touchscreen server, one pendant for each patient, and four pagers. No internet connection is needed for the system, and no phone lines. The system is designed to be plug and play, and is pre-programmed to be ready to use right out of the box. One RCare RDK is fully programmed for up to 40 patients and 4 caregivers, however it can be expanded with RCare’s Expansion Kits. Patient beds are outfitted with clip-on placards that correspond to patient call buttons, so caregivers can see which patients are calling. RCare’s G4 platform provides best-in-class range to cover large campuses and deepen building penetration, which allows it to be reliable in any setting.

The UMass temporary hospital was created in a 50,000 sq ft exhibition hall with cube-type barriers separating patient spaces. Nothing could be permanently mounted. The server was placed behind folding tables that nurses use for charting, on a box, with the paging encoder on top of it. Locators were hung on centrally-located poles with tie wraps. The server and paging encoder were plugged into a network switch with a patch cable. Pendants were given to the staff for distribution to patients as they were admitted. The openness of the space proved to be a benefit for signal transmission, allowing calls to be initiated from a pendant and received the full length of the space.

The system was installed overnight, and was completed and tested the following morning. Mark Roy, Senior Client Executive at Signet, described the scene.

“Everyone was in there doing everything at the same time. Hospital folks were setting up computers, networking and other technical infrastructure, pharmacy was loading Picsys machines, Biomed was setting up all their equipment, contractors were running O2 infrastructure, and news crews were there at the same time, documenting the whole thing.

Despite the tight schedule, Mark praised the UMass staff, who were very helpful, and provided everything needed in record time.

UMass returned the compliment. Sean Grady, Unit Coordinator for UMass Memorial said this about the installation:

“The RCare rollout was probably the best of any  vendor rollout involved with the DCU project. From project management to technical install, it could not have gone any more smoothly. I can tell you that the nurse call system has worked great for us at the field hospital we have set up in Worcester.”

RCare is proud to be part of the solution for this ambitious project. Our Rapid Deployment Nurse Call Kit (RDK) is a plug-and-play, portable, pre-programmed nurse call system in a box that can be set up in hours instead of days, in a situation lacking standard infrastructure, while providing the critical, reliable communications required in a hospital setting, even a non-traditional one.