Technology Taking off at Auckland Retirement Village


A child bubbles with news from her Gran's TV screen. A couple of old friends enjoy the grounds from the comfort of a driverless car. And a 97-year-old soars high over a Queenstown glacier.

Within months, this will be just another normal day at Northbridge retirement village in Auckland's North Shore - in fact that nonagenarian pilot is already winging his way around the country from the controls of Northbridge's new flight simulator!

"A lot of people think technology is for young people and it’s absolutely not true," insists Northbridge Director James Jordon. "Take video games - they're proven to be beneficial for older people, including those with dementia, improving hand-eye co-ordination and cognitive agility."

Despite its conservative image, the aged-care industry is challenged by change as much as anyone else, possibly more so, as Governments all over the world confront the enormous funding challenges of their ageing populations. And like most of their counterparts, New Zealand regulators are irresistibly drawn to home-care based solutions despite the potential problems of isolation and lack of stimulation that often lead to clinical depression.

"Home-care is popular for funding purposes because the average daily cost of home-care is much cheaper than a rest home or hospital, so governments will always pursue that because they can make each dollar go further," explains James.

In his view, the only way for Northbridge and their like to remain competitive is to improve their product, creating more appealing accommodation, upgrading services and embracing technology.

"We have to make ourselves a more attractive place to be than being at home," says James. "That's where I believe our design and innovation for the care facility becomes paramount."

Northbridge was a pioneer of the modern retirement village model in New Zealand and last year celebrated 40 years of providing 'care for life' through affordable accommodation and comprehensive support services. It operates as a Charitable Trust, a not-for-profit model where earnings are cycled straight back into the village itself.

"It's a capital intensive industry because you’re building so much," says James, "but it produces a strong, long-term cashflow after that, which makes for a very stable business."

Northbridge's assets of $140million are set to grow significantly with a major rebuilding program well underway. Turnover is normally in the range of $15-18 million, with a staff of 118. James has been at the helm for five years now and answers to a board who have proved very supportive of the initiatives.

As a result, 2018 year is shaping up as his most exciting yet. 

Stage 1 of the rebuilding project is about to open in what will ultimately see 32 existing apartments demolished and some 108 new apartments built, expanding accommodation availability by about 40% and offering a striking architectural contrast to many of its more institutional competitors.

Modernisation of care facilities, including the rest home, hospital and dementia units will follow.

Innovations developed in close collaboration with Auckland's Massey University will also start to come online.

Driverless vehicles will take to the village streets to ferry residents wherever they want to go around the 16 acre site.
The 'social robot' project will begin interacting with residents through their television screens, as a friend, keeping tabs on activities and appointments, arranging Skype sessions with family and friends, monitoring vital signs and medications, answering questions or simply mollifying the sense of isolation that reduced mobility inevitably brings.

IT innovations are continuing in the administration area too, where, as James points out, "Computers are very good at monitoring us, not the other way round, so the system will provide care plans and ensure that we do what we're supposed to do."

James was delighted when The CEO Institute came to Auckland two years ago. He was a foundation member of New Zealand's first cohort and has found it an invaluable opportunity to share problems and ideas with his peers.

"They're discussions I wouldn't have with my other business contacts."

His membership provides the perspective and encouragement to make decisions that intimately affect the everyday lives of his many clients.

"The industry is actually quite entrepreneurial in it's approach but it's one of the most difficult because your customer lives with you and often dies with you. You're dealing with the residents and their families as stakeholders. If you can succeed in this service industry here, you can succeed anywhere."

Like it's 97-year-old pilot, Northbridge is flying!

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