What if you could use collaboration technology to visit your loved ones during a global pandemic? We are all now experiencing a unique situation where social distancing is the new norm. But for many people, this is a drastic change that severely impacts their lives, and the lives of those they care for.

March 2020 is a month that over ONE MILLION American families in long-term care will remember. This was the month federal officials stopped all visits due to the global pandemic.

Figure 1 Garnet Hill Rehabilitation & Skilled Care

My neighboring care center, Garnet Hill Rehabilitation and Skilled Care in Wylie, Texas (suburb of Dallas) closed their doors to visitors and families as well as restricted access to only ‘essential visitors’. This meant families suddenly had no way to physically interact with their loved ones, nor see them during such a fragile and potentially lonely time in life.

Like many other facilities, Garnet Hill was quickly flooded with requests to see and talk to their family members. They scrambled to find and setup video conferencing solutions that were not only easy to use for residents, nurses, and family members, but also compliant with the facilities corporate IT policies. Even more challenging, was doing this while still maintaining social distance guidance set forth by the CDC.

Nurses eagerly asked friends to donate tablets and smart phones which soon proved to be a greater frustration to families and nurses, due to the number of varied technologies (i.e. not everyone has FaceTime), training, audio/video latency, differences with personal device audio volume, screen size, HIPAA requirements, as well as trying to scale across 100+ residents and their families. My friend is the Director of Nurses at Garnet Hill and I saw her request for tablets. Instead of tablets, I offered a more immersive experience.

Meetings Happen Where You Are

Figure 2 Webex-Powered Ava the Robot

As care facilities were closing all around me, I was introduced to “Ava”, a Webex-powered telepresence robot that has the mobilized ability to bring video communication wherever you want – such as hospitals, meeting rooms and hospitality suites. I thought it would be a perfect fit for our friends in the long-term care community. Because of Webex’s secure & simple meeting experience, Garnet Hill’s Administrator and Director of Nurses agreed to work with Cisco, and we started putting together our plan of action. Ava was delivered within a week and families were able to start connecting with each other the very same day.

“At Ava our mission with telepresence robotics is to be able to connect people in the most immersive and authentic way possible. With visitation restrictions during this crisis we’re thrilled to be able to connect the elderly community with their families. With Ava + Webex, and our partnership with Cisco, we’re able to facilitate family meetings with multiple members in multiple locations in a way that otherwise would not be possible.” – Rob Kutner, Vice President – Sales & Customer Success

So what is Ava?

Ava is a mobile intelligent robot that offers HD videoconferencing with up to 1080p30 video resolution along with full-fidelity audio as well as intelligent, autonomous navigation. Users simply specify a destination, and Ava automatically moves to the desired location. Through advanced mapping technologies, Ava learns the local environment to create a realistic map of the area — no need for the remote user to know the layout of the location or drive Ava to its destination. Built-in collision avoidance allows the robot to safely navigate around people and objects without bumping into them, while cliff sensors prevent encounters with stairs.

Figure 3 Ava Robotics Telepresence Dashboard

Ease of Use & Flexibility for Families to Connect

Traditionally, shared video conference devices are stationary and hardwired to a room so having a device that can move from room to room on its own is a huge cost & time saver for administrators, but also a recognized and welcomed “friend” to all residents.

In long-term care & rehab facilities, most residents are chair or bedridden and not every resident has their own communication technology. For Garnet Hill, this was the perfect solution to an almost instantaneous health quarantine that no one saw coming. Operating a tablet can be cumbersome for residents who are first time smart device users. With Ava, residents don’t have to touch anything. She automatically shows up when it’s time for residents to connect with families and the speaker audio and quality outperform any handheld device. Whether talking to one family member or all, the screen will adjust based on who is talking while still allowing residents to see family members. And better, families can join on their existing preferred device.

“Our experience with the robot communicator was fun! After 2 weeks of not seeing my Mother-In-Law it was nice to catch up and even show her how much my dog Lucille missed her! She loved seeing her puppy and kept saying ‘Grandma loves you puppy’ ?” – Pamela Belansky, Garnet Hill Resident Family Member

Figure 4 Resident talking with her family via Ava

The day Ava was delivered to Garnet Hill, residents were able to see and talk to their families, regardless of where they live or what kind of phone or laptop they use. To see residents smiling was worth the effort and risk to provide this capability to our own friends, families and neighbors.

We have meetings everyday with millions of people. This week on Bloomberg, our CEO mentioned that in one hour, 100,000,000 meeting minutes happen on our Webex platform and yet this is my favorite type of meeting and one that shows the power of our Cisco Webex platform & partner ecosystem.  Cisco collaboration is not just for running a business. We connect families. That is real, visible impact on people’s lives, and just another reason I love working at Cisco.

“Thank you all so much for giving me and my family time to visit and see my mother via the new robot!!!! The fact that me and my sibling can all join the call at once is so very special. It means so much to my mom to have all her kids together and the robot allows us to do that for her during this difficult time. It was emotionally hard on us when we were unable to see her due to the lockdown and not knowing when we would be able to see her again, and also the fear of losing her during this time. It has meant the world to us having the opportunity to see her and hear her voice via the robot. Thank you for this opportunity and for the amazing loving care you give my mom and all your residents!” – Jean Jones, Garnet Hill Resident Family Member

Click here to learn more about what Ava Robotics and Webex are doing together.

For additional information about the prevention of COVID-19, click here.


Laura Giles

Innovation Engineer