Ava Robotics, Blog

Almost Human: Facilitating Connections in Senior Living Communities With a Robot Named Ava

In these challenging days of the continued COVID-19 pandemic, senior living and health care facilities that have been hit hard by the virus are searching for new ways to connect residents with the outside world.

Karly Zelaska, wellness director for Lifetime Wellness – a leading provider of whole-person wellness programs for senior living communities – is helping to implement a revolutionary digital health initiative that enables resident connection with families and health providers.

Zelaska serves residents at Garnet Hill Rehabilitation and Skilled Care in Wylie, TX, a Dallas suburb. Like similar facilities throughout the country, Garnet Hill closed its doors in March 2020 to visitors and families and restricted access to “essential visitors” only.

“Our community was quickly deluged with calls from families who wanted to see and talk with their loved ones residing at Garnet Hill,” Zelaska says. “Staff moved quickly to find a video conferencing solution that was secure and easy to use. After evaluating several options, we decided on a mobile ‘telepresence’ robot called ‘Ava.’”

Powered by Cisco Webex, the Ava robot brings video communication to wherever it’s needed. The system includes high-definition videoconferencing, high-resolution video, and full-fidelity audio as well as autonomous navigation and built-in collision avoidance. When Zelaska keys in a destination, Ava drives herself there. “When her work is finished with one resident, be it a family call or a telehealth visit, Ava returns to her charging base station on her own.

“Most shared video conference devices are immobile and hardwired to a room. Having a system that can move from room to room autonomously is a huge time saver for our staff and a tremendous convenience for our residents. Families can join the conversation on their own devices.”

A Virtual Friend

In just a few weeks, Ava has become a welcome “friend” to Garnet Hill residents.

“For our residents, many of whom are bedridden or wheelchair bound, Ava offers ease of use because they don’t need to touch anything. The screen adjusts based on who’s talking while residents can see all family members and visit as they would in-person.”

Ava also serves as a hub for entertainment. For example, the system screen-shares Netflix, hosts group bingo matches, and takes residents on virtual “field trips.”

Family member reactions to Ava have been overwhelmingly positive. A grateful daughter of a resident recently sent this thank you to Garnet Hill staff: “It means so much to my mom to have all her kids together and the robot allows us to do that for her during this difficult time. It was emotionally hard on us when we were unable to see her due to the lockdown and not knowing when we would be able to see her again, and also the fear of losing her during this time. It has meant the world to us having the opportunity to see her and hear her voice via the robot.”

Safety in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Garnet Hill has been hard hit by COVID-19, with more than half of its current 79 residents testing positive. Staff immediately isolated those who tested positive in a separate wing of the building, referred to as the “hot zone,” which serves as a COVID-19 treatment and recovery center.

To meet the elevated needs of COVID-positive residents and prevent any further spread of the virus, Zelaska and her colleagues decided to locate Ava in the hot zone. Clad in personal protective equipment, Zelaska visits the hot zone two to three times a week at the end of the day, to assist residents with family calls and remote visits with health professionals.

Staff also count on Ava to set up resident telemedicine visits with physicians, nurse practitioners, and mental health professionals. Medical staff can consult at the bedside without compromising resident or care provider health and safety, and family members can participate in care planning remotely.

Into the Future

“Plans are in the works to bring in additional Avas for several of the other communities Lifetime Wellness serves,” Zelaska says. “With further deployments, we’re also exploring the prospect of becoming ‘command central’ in controlling the robots from one location.” The command center would provide another way to help serve residents and foster connections by acting as a remote activities hub. Outside of the traditional socialization residents receive at the facility level, the command center would be dedicated to providing additional offerings that encourage and positively impact seniors from a social wellness standpoint. As the world eventually returns to normal and residents become more social, we anticipate the Ava Robot will play a key role in facilitating future resident activities.”

Watch our Ava demo below and contact us to set one up for your community!