Edited by Pam McDonald

When Foresight Founder and Publisher Steve Moran interviewed Jack Sterne, a principal of Lumenant (a Foresight partner), a lighting and technology provider for senior communities, he came away with lots of information as well as excellent marketing tips communities can use to kick-start their efforts in the new era. Below are some lightly edited takeaway quotes from Jack. Listen to the entire interview HERE.

A healthy building is one with good lighting, good air quality, and a comfortable temperature. What makes buildings healthy ultimately is about sleep — because sleep is such a cornerstone of good health. If the light is too bright, it can keep people from producing melatonin in the evening so they can go to sleep. Many people don’t necessarily perceive difficulty sleeping as a health thing.

Light Greatly Affects Sleep and Sleep Is A Cornerstone of Good Health

And likewise, if the light’s too dim and it doesn’t get bright in the morning that actually inhibits the production of melatonin, which is what you want during the day. Melatonin is what makes you sleepy, and if your light’s wrong then you won’t wake up, you’re just kind of groggy all day. And that can lead to the disruption of residents’ circadian rhythm. Lots of seniors, particularly those with dementia, have fractured sleep, typically as a direct result of lighting. It may not be obvious, but it’s really critical to their health.

We can get used to poor lighting. It’s that whole frog boiling in water phenomenon. The frog doesn’t know the water’s heating until it’s too late. But a lot of lighting degrades over time, particularly fluorescent lights. Every time you turn on and off a fluorescent light bulb, it gets a little bit weaker. That’s the classic scenario, something may start out with a hundred lumens but after a couple of years, it’s down to 60 lumens and you’ve never noticed it. Unfortunately, your eyes have a very hard time navigating that dark hallway that’s created as a result.

Monitoring Indoor Air Quality

Monitoring air quality can also improve a building’s health. There are devices that will measure the level of ionization in your air because that has a big impact on whether viral particles and other things like allergens are floating around or whether they’re dropping out of the air column.

There are things like radon, which is one of these silent killers. And we can come in and measure for lots of different aspects of air quality, not just chemical pollutants, but whether or not you have enough fresh air or enough ionized air to basically strip the nasty stuff out of it. And the nasty stuff — viruses, bacteria, allergens, mold — all can be addressed with technology.

Finance A Lighting Retrofit with No Upfront Costs

It might interest you to know that if you’re retrofitting a building that’s got older lighting, chances are, because of the way we’re able to finance these things, you may well be cash-flow positive. We’ll replace your lighting at no cost upfront. You’ll save on your energy bill and on maintenance costs each month. That’s a net positive.

And, from a healthy buildings’ perspective, that extra cash flow lets you do more programming or, in this environment, buy more PPE, right? Or it helps you get back to financial stability, which is critically important for a lot of operators right now.

Establish Normal Circadian Rhythm

An unhealthy building has a lot of non-obvious costs, like bad lighting causing falls. If a senior has a fall and goes to the hospital, there’s a good chance they’re not coming back. Even if they do come back their quality of life is going to be diminished. So, lighting is as critical to reducing falls as sleep. A circadian lighting system helps establish a normal circadian rhythm.

The link between a normal circadian rhythm and immunity is very clear. So, if your residents aren’t sleeping well, they’re less able to fight infections of all kinds, including COVID. We’re talking about a direct impact on their health, which ultimately impacts your bottom line. You could increase your average length of stay by one month, and if you’re talking a hundred residents that’s like having 12 additional residents. You would have paid several folds for many of the things we would retrofit.

Walk the Building to Set Priorities

And, in order to establish priorities, you need to walk down the hallway and see whether your lighting is creating dark spots on the floor because those are trip hazards. The senior eye, particularly folks with dementia or Parkinson’s, just doesn’t see if there’s a difference in grade, and they are likely to trip there.

The other thing to look for is whether your light is too bright or too dim and whether your lighting changes throughout the day corresponding to the cycles of day and night. Chances are probably not because circadian lighting is a relatively new development. Most buildings don’t have lighting that changes color temperature or brightness levels.

Cleaning the Air You Breathe

In terms of HVAC systems, if you don’t have advanced filtration technology, like needlepoint bipolar ionization, you might want to put it in. COVID is with us for a while. And beyond that, there will be flu viruses and other things that make residents sick. It has a payoff, helping people not get sick and go to the hospital.

Hopefully, on the other side of the COVID pandemic, families are going to be much more attuned to these kinds of issues. People are going to be thinking about inside air quality in a way that they really haven’t before. I think they’re going to be asking questions. Do you have this? Do you have air cleaning technology? What are you doing to maintain healthy indoor air? And if you don’t have answers, I think they’re going to go to a community down the street. Part of your marketing would be that you have done all these things. Powerful, powerful messaging, right?

I was just talking to our staff member who’s in charge of bipolar ionization and the building monitoring technologies. He told me we’re about to pull the trigger on a system that will screen and display air quality in the building when you walk in the door.

The Marketing Benefits of a Healthy Building

Think about the marketing benefits when a family walks in the door and can see the levels of pollutants and allergens in the air. They’ll know what the level of ionization is that strips viruses and bacteria out of the air. That is going to give a huge feeling of confidence in the operation that’s hard to beat.

Particularly in this coming year, everything you do to fight for an edge in marketing will be worth it. Ultimately, you do it because it’s better for residents and staff, but it’s great that it also helps the bottom line.

Lumenant has its roots as an energy efficiency company. And there are definitely marketing benefits to energy efficiency, solar, and green marketing. But at the end of the day, it really needs to pencil out. And the good news is the technologies we’re talking about almost always pencil out.

Utility Rebates Make Retrofits More Cost-Effective

Government programs can make retrofitting a lot more cost-effective. Utilities have rebates. In California, as an example, power is so expensive that almost anything you do from an energy efficiency standpoint is going to pay for itself, whether it’s lighting, solar, you name it.

Even bipolar ionization lets you use up to 70% less fresh air in your HVAC system. That has energy efficiency benefits because the more fresh air you have to bring in, the harder your HVAC system has to work to either cool or heat that air. Using technology like needlepoint bipolar ionization, you decrease those fresh air requirements, which lowers your energy bill, and also improves your air quality. It’s a triple win.

New Builds Are Embracing This Technology

I think more new buildings are being built this way already. There is an increasing focus by a lot of architects in the senior living space on designing buildings to be healthier, in general, with more natural light and circadian lighting. I think HVAC systems are increasingly being looked at, but you’d be surprised by how much is not being done. Because folks aren’t educated and aren’t asking for it. Upfront it may be cheaper, but you can pay me now or you can pay me later. And it’s much better to do these things from the outset. You’re going to see the difference.

There’s this sort of strange inertia that has people doing what they’ve always done. So breaking out of that kind of thinking is what propels businesses and individuals ahead. And we can send somebody out to do a full audit to look at your lighting, the HVAC, even things as simple as your thermostats. There are thermostats that have an occupancy sensor that turns off when nobody’s in the room. It saves you money but also makes for a more comfortable building. Technology has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Smart buildings are here, and we can make your building a lot smarter and a lot healthier.

Valuable Resource Available

We’ve put together a great resource with Senior Living Foresight that looks at LED lighting. We’ve made it easy to access. All you need to do is text LED to (916) 659-5287. That’s three letters, LED to (916) 659-5287 and we’ll get this LED resource out to you. Or let us know you want to talk with me or somebody from our organization and we would be glad to get connected.

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