Technology Enhances Community Life

Art Montgomery uses his iPad in the hallways of Valle Verde.

Visit any of ABHOW’s communities and your first impression may be of the beautiful grounds, friendly staff, or range of housing options.

What you probably won’t notice are the many ways that technology is utilized. And that’s just how Joe Gerardi wants it.

“People live in our communities because of the activities and services we offer which are high-touch, not high-tech,” says Gerardi, ABHOW’s vice president for information technology. “We are ahead of many other organizations in using technology, but the secret is not to let the technology show too much. Technology is a helper that extends the reach of the staff and enhances the quality of life for our residents.”

One of the ways that technology is enhancing residents’ lives is with more advanced personal emergency response systems. A campuswide network allows staff to respond quickly when a resident pushes on a wearable and washable pendant, indicating that the resident has fallen or otherwise needs assistance.

“The newer systems we are implementing allow us to much more accurately triangulate where a person is so that we can respond even more quickly when a button is pressed,” says Gerardi. “In addition, the way that we respond is changing because the technology is changing. When someone pushes their pendant, we can generate text-to-voice messages to caregivers that will say, ‘Mrs. Smith pushed her pendant at the gazebo.’"

Among the most notable technological developments is the use of personal computing devices, Gerardi says. “In all of ABHOW, we have about a thousand PCs and 150 iPhones and 30 iPads. Just two years ago, we had 600 PCs and no iPhones or iPads,” he says. “These devices are being used by our executive directors to make them highly mobile and even more responsive within the community.”

Technological enhancements are also strengthening ABHOW’s health care. The Terraces of Los Gatos in Los Gatos, Calif., is piloting a “smart bed” that wirelessly tracks the health of residents in the campus health center.

“Large movements indicate that a resident is trying to get up, which alerts the nurse to check so that the resident doesn’t fall,” says Agnes Toribio, director of nursing. “The bed pad also monitors the heart rate and respiratory rate. It is great to be able to get this information without having the resident hooked up to wires.”

Team members aren’t the only people on campus who are plugged in. “In some of our communities, 50 percent of residents have personal computers that they actively use in their own homes,” Gerardi says.

To facilitate this, most communities offer residents — for a fee that is below market — assistance in setting up their computer, hooking up the printer, and connecting to the Internet. Community classes help residents master technology and social media. For example, residents at Santa Barbara’s Valle Verde can take a class about using Facebook while Rosewood in Bakersfield, Calif., offers a class on using Skype for video conferencing with family members.

John Mandle says that Valle Verde, where he has lived for 12 years, is very technologically advanced thanks to tech-savvy residents who are happy to volunteer. “We have a lot retired electrical and mechanical engineers and doctors, all of whom are very computer literate,” he says. “Some of them volunteer to test and repair electronics donated to our thrift shop or help people in using computers. We have an in-house TV station, run by residents, which operates 24 hours a day, featuring meal menus, activities, and special notices.”

Mandle says his neighbors read books on their Kindles and use their cell phones to send emails. “There isn’t a great gap between one generation and the next,” he says.

ABHOW utilizes technology in a wide variety of programming for residents. Just last month, The Terraces of Los Gatos introduced SpectiCast, which provides live and prerecorded cultural arts programming that residents can watch on a large screen with a great sound system. “We are showing high-quality programming from around the world to our residents right here in their own backyard,” says Nelson Rodrigues, resident services director. Some of the performances planned feature the Berliner Philharmoniker and Renee Fleming.

In recognition of ABHOW’s leadership in utilizing technology, Gerardi has been invited to speak in Washington, D.C., this month at the “What’s Next: Boomer Business Summit,” an annual event that brings together the country’s top businesses and organizations that are focused on the baby boomer-and-beyond marketplace.

“There are many technological innovations that we will continue to make, but we don’t do technology for technology’s sake,” says Gerardi. “We do it when it improves the health, safety and well-being of our residents.”


Founded in 1949, ABHOW is widely known for its pioneering leadership in senior housing and health care. The company serves more than 5,000 residents in 42 retirement communities in California, Arizona, Nevada and Washington.

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This article appears in the March 2012 issue of ABHOW Words.