Future of Senior Living Could Be On Display at New Innovation Center

Louisville already is a hub for senior care, boasting the largest cluster of aging care headquarters in the country. But industry and civic leaders in the Kentucky city are undertaking an ambitious project to make Louisville the epicenter specifically of innovative senior care.

Plans are being finalized for an innovation center where senior care providers, entrepreneurs, technology companies, researchers, investors, and the general public can converge to drive innovation. If all goes according to schedule, the doors of this innovation center—which is referred to as the Thrive Center—will be open in the third quarter of this year.

“Innovation is a requirement right now for this sector, not an option,” says John Reinhart, co-founder of Louisville-based InnovateLTC. Since opening in 2010, InnovateLTC has been acting as a facilitator between the senior care market and entrepreneurs with emerging technologies, products and service models focused on wellness and aging.      

InnovateLTC was the brainchild of Reinhart and Signature HealthCARE CEO Joe Steier. The two also created the vision and original concept behind the innovation center. But it is far from a two-person crusade, and as the final phases of the project have gotten underway, a broad coalition of industry stakeholders have united around the project, one of which is technology solutions provider CDW Healthcare, headquartered in Vernon Hills, Ill.

“Technology can truly transform the resident and family experience in senior living communities,” says Ginna Baik, senior care strategist at CDW Healthcare. “The innovation center will leverage technology to transform the senior care environment and spark innovation by bringing together providers, families and an aging population together in one place to transform the overall senior living environment.”

The innovation center also enables senior care providers to engage with, validate and purchase technology and applications that enhance business operations in one central location. CDW Healthcare will provide support by offering its wide range of senior care solutions and services through the center, Baik adds.

Other senior care leaders who are aligned with the center’s initiatives also emphasize that the time is right, given how avid the industry has become for cutting-edge solutions.

“Innovation and technology for the senior living industry has finally come into vogue and the innovation center is an important part of the future of the industry,” says Gary March, CEO of Masonic Homes of Kentucky. “Right on target at the right time. The innovation center certainly adds an element that characterizes the value and importance of our senior population in Kentuckiana and for that matter the entire country.”

A long time coming

The history of the innovation center can be traced back to 2010. That’s the year Signature HealthCARE relocated its corporate headquarters from Florida’s Palm Beach County to Louisville.

Signature—which has 126 locations in 10 states and offers skilled nursing, rehab, home care, assisted living and other services—joined an already impressive list of senior care companies based in Louisville. These include Atria Senior Living, Kindred Healthcare (NYSE: KND), Trilogy Health Services, Hosparus, ResCare, and Almost Family. And then there are the Louisville-based health care organizations that serve or intersect with the senior care sector, not least of which are Humana (NYSE: HUM) and long-term care pharmacy PharMerica (NYSE: PMC).

As part of attracting Signature to the city, political leaders, the University of Louisville, and others worked with Steier and his team on a three-prong strategy to accelerate innovation in lifelong wellness and aging. Innovation was a guiding principle of this strategic plan.

The formation of InnovateLTC was one part of the plan. Another was to jumpstart the conversation around aging-related innovations, and this led to the Louisville Innovation Summit. The conference first occurred in 2013; organizers expect about 500 health care executives and tech entrepreneurs to take part in the third summit, in October of this year. 

The third leg of the strategic plan was the innovation center, conceived of a place for venture capital to forge connections with senior living providers and even seniors themselves.

CDW Healthcare came on board as technology partner, seeing the innovation center as fitting into its mission and model of powering patient care and senior care innovation through technology. Other partners include the University of Louisville Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging.

“I’m a big believer in timing, and the senior living industry has seen a tremendous amount of growth and an expanded focus on innovation in the past two years,” says Baik. “CDW Healthcare and the senior living industry are now both in a position where we can all collaborate effectively, and I can’t wait to see the innovations this collaboration brings.”

Reinhart concurs.

“Now, the interesting part is the number of parties that understand and embrace [the center] are growing rapidly, as a regional, national and international play,” he says. 

The Innovation Center is being formed as a nonprofit. Signature Healthcare is designating its economic development incentives, committed to the company under the incentive package when it relocated its headquarters, to the nonprofit for capital buildout of the center.  The lease is being finalized with the University of Louisville to locate the Center within the Nucleus Research Park and in close proximity to its Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging.  Metro Louisville authorities have agreed to provide rent subsidies at the location.  

All in all, economic incentives total over $1 million in support of the Center.  However, financial backing was never the biggest challenge for the project, and is not what he is most focused on in terms of moving it toward completion, Steier emphasizes.

“It’s not a money issue, it’s getting down to an engagement model and structure that works,” he says. “With more players around the table now, that goal is being met.”

An innovation immersion

As for what visitors to the innovation center can expect, one word might sum up the experience: immersion.

“This is really, at the end of the day, a learning journey, an immersive learning center for seniors, family members, care professionals, technologists, researchers,” Reinhart says. “That’s the key value prop I see.”

Perhaps the most dramatic immersion would occur in fully staged senior living rooms at the center. A visitor could step into a prototype space outfitted with the latest technologies, furnishings, and other innovations, and senior living providers could use the spaces as a testing ground before rolling out new products company-wide. These “experience sites” might also be complemented by a “demo lab,” which would be a state-of-the-art consumer lab so that innovators and senior care providers could test and reveal new solutions.

Other potential zones of the center include:

  • Memory Care & Dementia Lab: For evaluation of early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s and working with care providers on treatment protocols.
  • Gamification: This zone would emphasize the role of gaming and virtual reality for the 50-plus market, and serve as a design studio for socially engaging activities.

“The healthcare system is very fragmented and very difficult for entrepreneurs with innovative products to penetrate the market,” says Sheri Rose, who served as COO of InnovateLTC. “Many entrepreneurs come into town with products and may assume the product fits every market segment of the senior care ecosystem.  What may work for assisted living does not necessarily work for skilled nursing and may not work for home health.”

Plans are in place to bring together the innovator with the service provider market for pilot pitches, Rose explains. The provider may then choose to be an early adopter and pilot the technology. Innovators, on the other hand, will be able to receive valuable feedback from the provider market that will ultimately drive their revenue stream.

Having the center as a place for innovators and senior care providers to work together in this fashion should lead to more efficient progress, stakeholders believe.

“The opportunity for providers to work together through a global collaboration, instead of being siloed, is a critical component to exploring innovative solutions,” says Kris Hansen, CEO of Western Home Communities, based in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

While on-site meetings and overall immersion might be the cardinal virtue of the center, it is not the only way for industry stakeholders to contribute and engage in what goes on there and to benefit from it, Reinhart says. 

Multimedia events will be an important part of the programming, to disseminate the work that is happening at the center to as many people as possible. InnovateLTC already has undertaken a successful program in this vein called Idea Hour, in which a C-level executive from one of the Louisville-based companies engages in conversation with someone from an emerging company that has an innovative solution related to a topic in senior care. Those conversations are recorded and shared via the web.

Nonetheless, the vision is for the center itself to be a draw—a physical embodiment of the most cutting-edge innovations to transform quality of care and quality of life for seniors.  

“We don’t want to be a city that got the word out that we’re the headquarters of lifelong wellness and aging innovation, and then you land at the airport and then what do you do? Drive around and look at some bricks-and-mortar communities?” Reinhart says. “We really want to lead the conversation on the ground-level with the industry, the solution providers, the consumers, and the people who can disburse those innovations around the world.”

Written by Tim Mullaney

Photo credit: The Pug Father