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Uber Meets Amazon in Senior Living Service Platform

Keeping senior living communities running at peak efficiency is no small challenge. These buildings or campuses often are vast, and managing them involves a long ledger of service tasks and costs—involving everything from keeping drains clear to making sure fire alarms are operational.

In fact, service costs account for about 16% of the budget at a typical senior living community. To help bring those costs down, some operators are turning to technology—or specifically a crossroads of technologies. One place they are turning for this tech intersection is a web-based platform known as Direct Supply TELS [The Equipment Lifecycle System] Local Services.

Direct Supply, based in Milwaukee, Wis., provides equipment and services to more than 36,000 senior living communities nationwide. TELS is Direct Supply’s technology platform that helps communities stay compliant, maintain assets and manage maintenance.

TELS, launched 13 years ago, is now used by nearly 10,000 senior living communities. But while TELS has been around for more than a decade, Direct Supply continues to innovate and grow the platform; the Uber-like Local Services component of TELS is in 36 markets, with expansion into more markets on the horizon in 2016.

“While building management is just one part of this large service costs spend, it is the least tracked in senior living,” says John Walter, vice president and general manager of Direct Supply TELS | Local Services.

He compares TELS | Local Services to DSSI, Direct Supply’s senior living procurement system, which allows users to automate purchasing and spend optimization while driving compliance.

“By applying the same visibility to building management spend that DSSI brought to food, equipment and supplies spend, we believe customers’ overall building management budget can be reduced by more than 10% over time,” he says. “Our industry knows the price per dealer cost of a chicken breast down to the fraction of a penny, but without TELS can’t identify the per-bed spend on HVAC services.”

Drain cleaning is another example Walter cites. A TELS report showing that a building is spending thousands of dollars annually to clean drains indicates it could benefit from equipment known as a plumbing snake and brief training for the maintenance director in how to use it. But this type of data-driven decision making is only one aspect of TELS, which also enables on-site maintenance staff to move management from clipboards into the digital age, quickly communicate more accurate information to third-party service technicians, and connect with specially trained maintenance providers in their area.

“TELS combines the real-time convenience and quality ratings of using [an Uber-like service] with the vast selection of options in Amazon with the aggregated data and insights of [personal finance management site] Mint.com to deliver countless ways for senior living buildings to save money through smarter building management initiatives,” Walter says.

Increasing maintenance efficiencies

TELS Mobile is available on any Apple or Android device and the TELS platform can be accessed from anything that has Internet access. Operators can request service repairs from TELS-certified contractors 24/7. Building or asset information is communicated to the service technician to ensure the right parts are on the truck and enhance the chances for a fast and successful service event.

Genesis Healthcare has been using the platform for nearly a decade and has seen the positive impact it has on budget and operations, says Chris Cox, regional property manager with Genesis. The Kennett Square, Pa.-based company operates over 500 skilled nursing and assisted living residences in 34 states nationwide, according to the company’s website.

“Back in the day, you might see a huge calendar on the wall with notices regarding inspections, fire drills, etc.,” Cox says. “If a maintenance director didn’t have something written down we could fail to complete a necessary task. TELS spells out what these men and women are doing throughout the year to meet regulatory standards and stay compliant. For example, the program might notify us that this month we need to be doing fire drills.”

In addition, the platform allows for tasks to be smoothly transitioned from person to person.

“I can have the maintenance director of a 280-unit facility leave suddenly due to a personal emergency and have someone come in and take over right where he left off,” he says.

In a rapidly evolving health care market, it behooves communities to be as efficient as possible.

“Mobile technology has changed the world,” Cox says. “We can take a photo of something that isn’t working and generate a work order that includes warranty information. Before, when something was broken, we would have maintenance staff using clipboards, which they would usually set down and then misplace. Using a tech platform, these employees can mark tasks complete as they go all by the touch of a button on their smartphone.”

TELS provides for the ability to scan items’ barcodes, which then informs the user of the item’s maintenance history, including warranty information.

“Prior to having this information we had staff working on items that had warranties—we were losing money,” he says, adding that seeing an item’s repair history helps operators make better decisions regarding whether to “repair or replace.”

Deploying ‘superheroes’ into communities

While TELS can be used among in-house staff, it also connects operators to local maintenance companies in their market.

Maintenance companies that want to be featured on the TELS network go through a lengthy vetting process to ensure the safety of residents and staff, Walter explains.

“Through our research we have found that many technicians going into senior housing communities have not had adequate background checks, are not licensed or don’t have the adequate amount of insurance, which exposes a ton of risks with customers,” Walter says. “That puts residents at risk. We have about 63 criteria that must be met before a company can join our network.”

Some of that vetting process includes conducting in-person site interviews.

“We go to their headquarters, we see how they conduct training, we evaluate their trucks and their uniforms,” he says. “We see what their service attitude is. The main distinction between senior living and other environments is that these technicians are entering people’s homes. They need to know the etiquette of going into a community. We put them through a senior living orientation.”

Using the TELS platform allows these contractors to be “ maintenance superheroes” in these communities by providing them the information they need to complete the task at hand, he says.

And just like Uber, at the conclusion of a service event, providers’ maintenance staff can submit a 5-star rating on the app that is used to ensure continuous improvement of the service network.

Written by Cassandra Dowell