The COVID-19 crisis in New Jersey has create a layer of difficulty for those trying to communicate with their loved ones in long-term care facilities.
Speak2, an app-based system created by Newark-based Speak2 Software, feels it has a solution.
CEO Matt Smith said his firm’s technology, which takes advantage of Amazon Alexa-like technology, will enable families to easily communicate with loved ones.
The software is used at wellness community Sycamore Living in East Hanover and soon to be installed at Reformed Church Home in Old Bridge and a Sycamore Living in the Princeton area.
Smith said the technology can be a benefit long after the pandemic is over. Among other reasons, Smith said Speak2 helps connect families that struggle with technology. Its voice-activated messaging system is designed especially for those who struggle with devices or interfaces, such as blindness or physical handicaps, he said.
And Speak2’s integrated voice technology integrates with a senior’s address book, allowing them to connect with friends or family through voice command calls or speak-to-text functions, without the difficulty of locating or using a phone. Smith said users can ask for help and signal emergency services by simply saying so out loud — no swiping, reading or screens required.
Smith, a former health care technology consultant, said he saw the need.
“I noticed the struggles that some older people have with devices when my parents were aging,” he said. “We looked for solutions, but there were only things such as wellness portals, which weren’t much of a solution.
“When Amazon Dot and Echo came along — a device designed at a reasonable price point for consumers — it didn’t take long for its users to become comfortable with the technology. Soon after that, people were enjoying smart-home features such as Google Home.”
Speak2 enables seniors to receive and listen to messages through voice activation. It also enables seniors to contact support staff at their facilities or from their homes.
Smith said his product has had a nice unintended consequence: increased communication from grandchildren.
“Children are not always ones who will pick up the phone and call their grandparents,” he said. “But being able to do this by downloading our app, they can press a microphone button on the app and send well wishes or good news from the app on their phone. For example, ‘Hey Grandpa, we won our soccer game today.’ Kids are much more willing to engage with an app.”
Seniors receive activation notices that messages have arrived and can play them. The system also is compatible with Amazon Screens, so family and friends can send video messages.
Smith said the platform also connects to the community’s management, allowing residents to state specific issues or requests and routing commands to the intended teams or people, such as management, maintenance, nursing, etc.
Even more, it alerts families of these very same requests, so they know exactly what is going on with their loved ones. This not only enables more efficient management of resources, but it enables predictive analytics to drive better planning and staff behaviors.
The Speak2 system connects to unit thermostats, lights and electronics, eliminating the need for remotes and minimizing the risk of injury due to a fall. Seniors can also use voice commands to access entertainment through audio books or TV control and can set reminders for medications or appointments. The system can also be used to monitor movements in and out of certain areas to help track medical issues, like mobility, nutrition or lavatory visits.
Speak2 announced in April that it will be offering its voice technology platform for free to seniors living at home and in assisted living communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Smith is eager to install his system in Old Bridge and Princeton, but state restrictions prevent him from entering those centers during the pandemic.
He said his software is ideal to use in hospitals, and it is soon to be HIPAA compliant. Amazon is in the process of making its devices HIPAA-compliant and, once that occurs (it is expected to happen by year’s end), Speak2 Software is positioned to conform as well.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the U.S., Reformed Church Home and Sycamore Senior Living have signed on for the free offering, receiving donated Echo Dot devices from Amazon.
Today, more than 250 seniors have access to the tech, Smith said. Regency Pacific, a national brand of senior communities, and English Meadows, a Virginia-based company with eight communities, previously rolled out Speak2 to their residents.
“This has been particularly helpful at a time when most senior communities are prohibiting visitors due to health concerns,” Smith said. “Loneliness and mental health already impact senior citizens at disproportionate levels, so engagement during this time is critical.”