NIC Notes

Insights in Seniors Housing & Care

By: NIC  |  September 21, 2023

Icon: Creating the Well-Connected Community - A conversation with Icon CEO Ryan Galea

Untitled design (1)Like so many executives, Ryan Galea was motivated by a personal experience to jump into the senior living industry. He was working on Wall Street investing in the healthcare and technology sectors. But when his grandmother became ill, he saw that she didn’t have the best care experience before she passed away.

So, he decided to improve the aging experience by creating a better all-in-one communication and engagement software for organizations that support seniors. Galea consolidated several software platforms in the senior care space and named the company Icon. 

NIC Senior Principal Ryan Brooks recently talked with Galea, CEO at Boston-based Icon. What follows is a recap of their conversation about Icon and its commitment to revolutionize the aging experience by engaging, informing, and uniting all stakeholders in the community. 

Brooks: To kick off, can you tell us a little bit about Icon? 

Galea: Before my grandmother passed away, she told me to grab opportunities when you can. That advice had a big impact on me. Based on her disappointing care experience, I came up with the idea to consolidate some of the software platforms in the senior care space. The available platforms were single-point solutions that really didn’t talk to each other. So, in 2021, we acquired VoiceFriend, a cloud-based communications platform. Then, in 2022, we acquired CareMerge, a provider of engagement solutions. We renamed the combined company Icon.   

We reimagined the mission of the company. In our view, Icon is more than a tech platform. We are focused on innovation to equip providers with the tools needed to communicate and engage with the entire community including residents, families, and staff efficiently and effectively. 

Brooks: How many senior housing and care communities is Icon in currently? How do you anticipate that changing in the coming years? 

Galea: We are quite sizable. There wasn’t a lot of overlap between the footprints of VoiceFriend and CareMerge. We’re in more than 2,000 communities in the U.S., and several in Canada. We’re looking to expand there and in Europe and to increase the depth of our offerings. 

Brooks: Users can face a steep learning curve with some technologies. Can you tell us about Icon’s user experience? 

Galea: This is one of the areas where we excel. Last year, we received the “Best Ease of Use” award in our category from Capterra, a highly regarded software review website. That speaks volumes about our design philosophy. We designed our platform with users in mind. They all have smartphones and understand mobile workflows. Older platforms were not built on the new age architecture experience and that’s a big roadblock. We have adoption success because our platform feels like all the other applications people are using today.  

Brooks: Data is such an important part of managing the health and well-being of the seniors living in our communities. Can you tell us about the ‘Reporting and Analytics’ solutions that Icon provides? 

Galea: We gather community-level intelligence from the data on the platform to refine the overall resident experience. Operators can gain insights into program effectiveness, engagement, resident and family feedback, and other key indicators. Our new enterprise dashboard allows a central multisite operator to view all of their properties in one place. They can compare properties to see why one has a higher satisfaction score than the others. They can get solid insights into usage patterns to implement best practices across the portfolio. We’ve developed the tools to make that easy.   

Brooks: Socialization is seen as one of the key value propositions in senior living. How does Icon encourage socialization and a sense of belonging? 

Galea: Socialization is the cornerstone of the senior living experience and also a cornerstone of our platform. There are different ways that the platform encourages socialization. We empower residents. There is no better way to foster a sense of belonging than to give seniors the tools they need to make connections themselves. So, we give them the tools to organize their own groups and events. For example, one woman moved to a community after her husband passed away and wanted to meet people. She had liked to watch NASCAR with her husband, so she created a NASCAR group. It turned out that lots of other people in the community liked NASCAR, joined the group, and organized a watch party. We also give the community the data to personalize the resident experience. We can track resident interests so the staff can recommend programs to drive attendance. We can also offer personalized programming suggestions to seniors based on their interests.   

Brooks: What makes an iconic aging experience different from a great aging experience? 

Galea: Successful brands are very focused on the consumer. Apple is an example, or the online pet supply store Chewy. Chewy sends each customer a handwritten letter on their dog’s birthday. We have an obsession with the consumer that is rare in senior living. Our platform delivers that phenomenal experience to help providers understand what the customer wants.  

Brooks: How do residents’ families view the communication tools provided by Icon? 

Galea: We take an omni-channel approach. Our philosophy is to meet stakeholders where they’re most comfortable. We have a family phone app to show what their loved one is doing day to day and to provide feedback to the community or talk to the staff. We give adult children visibility into their loved one’s day without having to make a lot of phone calls.  

We also provide communication by text, phone call, Amazon Alexa, or email. We can even translate the message if the family member is a non-native speaker to sidestep language barriers. We don’t impose the way we want to communicate with the family. We meet them where they’re comfortable.  

Brooks: How does Icon improve communication with the caregiving staff? 

Galea: We continue to build out this area of our platform. The staff experience is essential to the senior aging experience. A happy staff makes happy residents. We facilitate the ability to communicate with staff and families one-on-one or in group conversations. Senior living has a lot of immigrant labor. Our platform is inclusive and its translation capabilities make it easy to communicate with staff. We have a new employee portal, a hub where the staff can see everything happening from employee events to training sessions. Our awards recognition platform is coming out later this year to drive staff retention. It will provide more instant recognition for the hard work the staff is doing.  

Brooks: Staffing and retention challenges that were prevalent before the pandemic have unfortunately been exacerbated. In what ways does Icon make it easier for staff to be efficient and resourceful in their jobs? 

Galea: A big part of our platform is giving the staff the tools to make their lives easier. Our goal is to streamline data entry, so the staff only has to input information at one point. The data is then pushed to every channel, from PowerPoint slides to printed newsletters and other means of communication. We also store resident bio information to help optimize programming to include the most common interests in the community. We make it easier to communicate with residents and family. 

Brooks: One of the key performance metrics for skilled nursing communities is reducing readmissions for discharged patients. How do Icon’s communication tools reduce the likelihood of a discharged resident being readmitted to the hospital? 

Galea: We have a robust workflow automation engine. One of the first big issues we addressed with this platform was post-discharge management. Our tool lets the community design a multi-day cadence of messages. On day one, for example, the primary contact could get a messageHow are you feeling? It’s automated, customizable, and tracks responses. Anything that is concerning generates a flag alert for a staff follow-up. It’s a scalable system to make sure communication is happening. It saves time and promptly identifies the need for treatment.  

Brooks: Are there any other new features or upcoming releases that Icon plans to introduce?       

Galea: Yes, we are introducing the employee engagement platform with rewards and recognition programs. We looked at peer-reviewed literature to improve employee satisfaction and retention and built that into an automated platform. We are also introducing a Smart Aging platform to improve wellness. Unlike a lot of today’s platforms which are very passive, our platform engages residents to improve their well-being. We use artificial intelligence to design unique programming to help residents set goals, track their progress, and boost overall well-being.   

Brooks: Is there anything else you’d like our audience to know? 

Galea:  At its core, Icon is more than a collection of technologies. It’s a testament to creating a seamless ecosystem to manage the resident experience. Our goal is not just to solve problems. We are really helping to sculpt those experiences that inspire growth, foster connections, and touch the hearts of residents and family members. Icon is like a digital bridge for connections, transcending the boundaries of what is physically impossible in a physical setting.  

Brooks: AgeTech is a focus for NIC. Can you leave us with your final thoughts on innovations in AgeTech? 

Galea: Innovation is not just doing something new but making a difference with what you are doing.Innovation is about elevating the human experience. When we think about innovation and AgeTech our goal is for the platform to make a difference. Technology is the means to make a noticeable, measurable impact. That is the future of AgeTech. 

About NIC

The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to support access and choice for America’s seniors by providing data, analytics, and connections that bring together investors and providers.

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