Washington, DC—Good Morning, ProviderNation. The House has taken up a bill that would set aside tens of millions of dollars to help skilled nursing centers plug into high-speed broadband. Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., it’s basically the mirror version of a Senate bill championed by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
If the bill passes, providers will owe a huge thanks to Good Samaritan and its top lobbyist, Dan Holdhusen. He has been working on this issue for more than a decade.
“We’ve tried to be very advanced in using technology to move the data. It gets pretty expensive in those frontier areas to support and pay for broadband,” he says.
Rolling The Boulder
With broadband, Good Samaritan is able to use apps like Skype to connect their residents with doctors and therapists hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. But it’s not cheap. “It would’ve been useful if we’d been able to access these universal service funds say 15, 20 years ago,” Holdhusen tells me.
Holdhusen is coming to D.C. this week to work Congress, again, and to underline the importance of the bill. The bill doesn’t seem to have any in-principle enemies. Then again, it never has had such enemies, and yet Holdhusen has been rolling this boulder up a hill for a long, long time.
The current Universal Service Fund was reworked in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The Federal Communications Commission did another major overhaul in 2010, turning the fund—which was designed to help lower the costs of telephone services for remote or desperately poor areas by charging all phone users a small fee—into a broadband for America fund. Tens of millions were set aside for health care centers, but FCC insisted that skilled nursing centers weren’t included in the list.
‘It’s A Mystery’
“It’s a mystery to us,” Holdhusen says of FCC’s stance.
Nonetheless, Holdhusen and his colleagues had their hopes raised in fiscal 2014, when the commission agreed to set aside $50 million in universal service cash for pilot programs for skilled nursing.
“It kind of fell by the wayside,” Holdhusen says. “I don’t think anyone was against it, it just wasn’t part of their priorities.”
Tired of working the commission, Holdhusen turned to Congress for help.
“It doesn’t feel any good just to beat your head against the wall,” he says.
‘It Will Mean A Great Deal’
As Congress deliberates on the legislation, Holdhusen finds himself once again cautiously optimistic. He doubts that the bill will pass before year’s end, but he’s hoping “we can hit the ground running” early next year.
“It will mean a great deal to us,” he says.
Meanwhile, though, providers ought not to wait for Congress—or anyone else—to start plugging their residents into the 21st century and closing the elder care app gap, says Jack York, my personal tech god and founder of It’s Never 2 Late, a tech company that serves long term care residents.
Make It Meaningful
“There are dozens and dozens of off-the-shelf tools and adaptive devices available to address virtually any disability out there,” York says. “Our experience, however, is that it’s an equally important issue to make the technology meaningful for older adults. The physical issues matter, but they can sometimes be perceived as the only issues that matter.”
York has long argued that providers have to stop thinking about technology merely in operational terms. E-health records are awesome, but not exclusive, and providers who don’t find ways to connect their residents with modern tech are doing the residents—and themselves—a disservice, York says.
“Some of the off-the-shelf tools are game-changers for almost everyone, and are a great place to start,” he says. “Through Google Earth, you can show a 92-year-old woman the satellite image of where she went to high school. Have Skype or Facetime be part of the fabric of your nursing home. Do a virtual tour of the Louvre and hear the stories come to life of a trip to Paris 50-plus years ago. You’ll be amazed by what you see.”
“The thing is,” York continues, “these experiences, and opportunities, are not novel anymore. Get off your keister and make technology available for your residents, but go through the process on their terms, not yours. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about the person you serve every day.”