(2022-05-02) The SHB Interview: Dr Bill Thomas Innovation Officer Lifespark

The SHB Interview: Dr. Bill Thomas, Innovation Officer, Lifespark. Bill Thomas: I started my career path in medicine - I'm a medical doctor. I attended Harvard Medical School, graduated from there and did my residency in family medicine.

I thought I was going to be a family doctor, but I took a part-time job as a medical director of a nursing home and really fell in love with the people and the work. So, I added a certificate in geriatrics, left my family practice and became a geriatrician.

I began working with my wife Jude to experiment with culture and new ways of thinking about senior living. We founded the Eden Alternative in 1992 and it kind of went from there.

I worked with AARP for 20 years. The organization taught me a lot that became very helpful with the Green House model. Its success depended to a large degree on successful advocacy and public policy work. The fact that I spent this time working with AARP helped prepare me for some of those challenges

I got to work with Kimberly-Clark's innovation group, which put more effort into understanding the customer in a day than some senior living organizations do in years. That's something we really miss out on.

I also did some consulting work for Amazon. In particular, I helped the company explore the senior space. As a tech company and an online retailer, Amazon is interested in the same people we in senior living are interested in, but from a different point of view.

In senior living, we think of a segment of people's lives where they enter into seniors housing. Amazon thinks of a customer's life journey

SHB: What is Lifespark's model and how does it differ from the status quo?

What makes Lifespark different is it opens another side of the wallet. It brings another category of revenue into the mix. That's what we refer to as value-based reimbursement.

offer people access to a complete healthcare system that isn't based only on acute medical care, but includes health and wellness in the community

home services, late-life care, primary medical care with geriatric experts - all the pieces that people use in their homes and communities

The second thing, and it's what makes Lifespark unique, is that we complete that network with financial insurance products that pay for it all in the context of population health.

With participating health plans, we give people access to a complete integrated team - one point of coordination for a better experience to keep costs down and outcomes high.

you've been pushing for more technological innovation in an industry that frequently is resistant to such changes.

what we need are really simple networked tools that replace labor in ways that enable humans to spend more time being human with the people in the community.

If I had robots that cleaned toilets and made beds, I could take my labor and direct it toward the relationship building and human connection

But I don't get that robot. I get cuddly seal robots and pill dispensers

My wife, Jude, and I founded The Eden Alternative. I'm very proud that it is healthy and continuing its mission of transforming the experience of aging. We've transitioned out of operations.

We're part of the founding team at Pioneer Network

The goal of the Pioneer Network is to help care providers transition away from the medical, institutional model of senior care

The Green House Project has grown, and now it's coming up on 20 years and is operating on its own

Green House homes are a small-house senior care concept, most of which are licensed skilled nursing facilities, emphasizing a smaller, self-contained and self-sufficient concept

We founded an online communications platform, Changing Aging

And then I founded a company called Minka, which began as a company making and selling prefabricated small houses for elders

Developing organizations that can deliver solutions is the thread that connects all of this.

Everybody has great ideas for new architecture and technology, but if you don't have the revenue, you can't do it. Lifespark is a crowning piece of my career's work because it has the potential to inject new revenue into the field in ways that can improve the health and well-being of older people.

One group of leaders and entrepreneurs has solved the question you posed by moving up the income scale and focusing on meeting the needs of wealthy people. I have no trouble with that - that's great.

if you want to shape the future of seniors housing, you're going to have to serve the middle market and develop tools that allow the American middle class to have access to senior living.

If you look at the opportunity to marry new revenue from population health with a commitment to supporting older members of America's middle class, you can make a business case.

SHB: Do you have any ideas to help the industry face the labor crisis,

For years we've refined our ability to present our value proposition to older people and their families, get people to move in and benefit. We need to develop the same capability of marketing ourselves as a place to work.

You have to use the same tools and expertise.

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