K4Connect NCALA

Senior Living Tech Startup K4Connect is Bringing 1,400 Amazon Echo Shows to North Carolina Assisted Living Communities

More than 1,400 Amazon Echo Show 8 smart displays will be set up across approximately 1,200 North Carolina assisted living communities by the end of the month. Senior lifestyle tech developer K4Connect is working with the non-profit North Carolina Assisted Living Association (NCALA) to distribute the smart displays appropriately. The hope is the devices will raise the spirits of residents and make it easier to for them to keep in touch with their loved ones during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

NC Connect

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, North Carolina’s assisted living homes quickly started adjusting to try and keep residents and staff safe. When the federal CARES Act passed in late spring, NCALA helped get personal protective equipment and other medical care equipment to the hundreds of assisted living communities in the state. But, even with physical safety measures in place, the health of many residents started to fade.

“The seniors had all of their  social living shut down completely because of [the pandemic]. They had to stay isolated in their room for a long time,” NCALA president and CEO Frances Messer told Voicebot. “We used money from the CARES Act to get PPE and take care of their physical needs, but we saw a lot of decline in mental well-being, a lot of depression and just a tremendous emotional effect. We had to look at how we could combat this tremendous problem of isolation.”

Messer and NCALA explained the problem to the North Carolina General Assembly, leading to the inclusion of a $500,000 grant from the federal Coronavirus relief Fund mandating using technology to relieve isolation and depression among the residents. After considering and dismissing iPhones and other tech that not everyone might want or have access to, Messer turned to K4Connect, whom she knew of from their work in the Raleigh area. She was impressed with the smart home controls and comprehensive variety of features available on an Echo Show. The Echo Shows provided by K4Connect don’t just come out of the box. The devices operate on the K4Community platform, built on the company’s FusionOS operating system. K4Community provides customized features depending on the community’s needs, and staff can analyze health and other data shared by residents.

“When we started talks, their need brought to mind our partnership with Amazon with Echo Dots,” K4Connect chief growth office Keith Stewart told Voicebot, referring to the company’s distribution of more than 8,000 Echo Dot smart speakers donated by Amazon to retirement communities on the west coast. “Deploying at scale in a crisis and then providing enterprise management and support is what K4Connect brings.”

“What really sold it is they were offering support for one year, so if staff had a question or problem, they could get help,” Messer said. “No one else was offering that.”

Assisting at Assisted Living

NCALA decided on the Echo Shows partly because Messer and her team felt the screen and visual elements might be easier for older residents to learn to use. As for how the residents will use the smart display, Messer said the primary purpose would be virtual visitations, which is part of why the smart displays will be in the common area. Setting it up that way also eliminates any potential for accidental purchases or sharing of personal details. The smart displays will show off recommendations for apps and skills the residents might like too. There’s already evidence the devices can be helpful. Project Zilver and Voice for Loneliness have both published studies showing how voice assistants can be comforting companions, along with keeping people connected by phone and video calls.

“Being able to request songs and music is always very popular, as is trivia,” Stewart said. “Hallway singalongs are also very popular and just general questions and answers. I often like to show them funny things, things that break the ice and get them interested. I’m excited to see what it does for people’s spirits.”

The smart displays will be spread out to the communities based on the number of residents, with a fairly even split between those with no more than six residents and those with more than seven. More populated communities will naturally be the first to get more than one Echo Show. After gathering enough data on how residents are using the devices and how they are helping them, Messer plans to return to the legislators and push for expanding the grant and the program.

“This is just the initial plan,” Messer said. “We are planning to go back to the General Assembly to ask for more. They like numbers, and I like showing them numbers. We will have more coming. I’d like to see an Echo Show in every resident’s room who wants it.”


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