by CARMEN SIERING
Betsy Greene’s mother, Beth Van Vorst Gray, lived at Bell Trace Senior Living Community with her husband, Ralph Gray, and died in February, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“Shortly after she died, Bell Trace shut down,” says Greene, a local attorney with Greene & Schultz Trial Lawyers. “We were planning a celebration of life, and we couldn’t visit with Ralph. It was hard not being able to communicate in person.”
Adding to the communication issues, Gray has hearing loss. “The telephone isn’t a good option for him,” Greene says, noting that things are a bit easier when Gray can see people’s faces.
So, when The Injury Board, a national association of trial attorneys that works to strengthen local communities, chose to provide senior living communities across the country with video communication devices as part of its 2020 Day of Action, Greene & Schultz knew just where it wanted to commit its efforts.
“We picked Bell Trace in honor of Mom and Ralph,” Greene says. “He has his own laptop, so it wasn’t for him directly, but he was the genesis of the idea.”
The firm donated six Amazon Echo Show 8 devices. Because many Bell Trace residents have laptops and smartphones for personal communication, and Bell Trace has tablets available for those who do not, Melissa Davis, Bell Trace activities coordinator, says the decision was made to place the new, Alexa-enabled devices around the building for communal use. They can be found in five locations: the assisted- living café, library, activity room, third-floor lounge, and mail room.
Information on basic voice commands is available near each device, and an in- service is planned for residents who want to learn more.
“We’ve spent a lot of time researching how we can use them,” Davis says. For example, the devices are used in group activities with residents asking Alexa for help during trivia and Word Chat, where participants discuss the etymology of words.
As for the learning curve, Davis doesn’t see a problem. “I think most of our residents will pick up quickly once they feel comfortable talking to Alexa,” she says. “As soon as they realize they can just talk and ask questions, I think they are going to get a kick out of it.”