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Ensuring a Secure Retirement

FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE, a retirement community located in Bloomington, Minnesota, has a unique population. Some residents receive nursing and long-term care and others reside in assisted living spaces with some help from staff. Still others live independently in one of 12 free-standing townhomes. The residents also have access to a variety of special facilities from a physical fitness center to a wood shop. In 2010, controlling access to these spaces for residents, family members, and employees was becoming a problem for Rick Meyer, executive director of Friendship Village. The facility’s 15-year-old card access system was obsolete. “We called the vendor for parts and couldn’t get them,” says Meyer. “Our only alternative was to start to move to hard keys while we tried to figure out our next step.”

And that next step was tricky given the facility’s security needs and the needs of its residents. The new access control system had to be easy for seniors to use but provide a high degree of security. The locks had to be substantial but could add no weight to doors that elderly people had to open.

Friendship Village—one of 12 retirement communities owned by Lifespace of Des Moines, Iowa—has 415 doors with electronic locks. There are more than 1,200 cardholders, which includes 285 employees.

An eight-person maintenance staff functions as security during the morning and early afternoon, followed by two security officers who are on duty in the afternoons, evenings, nights, and weekends.

The facility was previously equipped with three separate access control systems—a proximity card system on the perimeter and two different types of battery-operated locks on administrative and resident doors. While these were easy to use, they proved costly to maintain. For example, to program the old system to provide access cards for new occupants or to replace lost cards, a staffer had to carry a laptop with cable to every door lock that would be accessed by the new card. Similar actions were required to delete cards. This meant that many cards were not deleted. “If someone lost a card, we just gave them a new one,” says Meyer. “Employees would spend three or four hours a day doing card access removal. And if an administrative card was lost, it had to be coded to every door in the facility.”

When Meyer began the search for a new access control system, he wanted one that could be more easily maintained. Friendship Village also needed a system that was sophisticated enough to restrict access at certain times of day and could allow residents to access only parts of the facility they are authorized to enter.

Because of the physical limitations of the residents, the new system would have to be a proximity card. A magnetic stripe system would not work because some residents have dexterity issues.

Aesthetics were another factor. The locks needed to look substantial but not obtrusive. “We don’t want the facility to feel like a prison; we want it to feel like a home,” says Meyer.

To start the search, Meyer contacted Bill Wood, technical sales director with Floyd Total Security of Bloomington, Minnesota. Wood had been working with Meyer to fix internal locks on the facility’s bathrooms. Wood provided information on a number of possible systems.

With options in hand, Meyer went to corporate executives at Lifespace headquarters and proposed buying a new system. Executives gathered a task force of several facility directors located throughout the United States and charged it with investigating different solutions. The task force spent eight months evaluating seven different products.

In October 2010, the task force announced that it had chosen the Inspired Access Control System by Salto of Atlanta, Georgia. However, before the project could proceed further, Meyer had to get buy-in from the facility’s residents.

The residents have designed 30 different committees to run the community. One of those committees, the resident council, communicates with management about the day-to-day running of Friendship Village. Wood worked with the resident council to set up a general meeting to discuss the new access control system, the changes it would require, and the cost to the facility.

Approximately 300 residents attended the meeting. Wood emphasized the value of the system and its security features. He made it clear that, while the access control system was high-tech, it was also convenient. “We did not want to make their lives more complicated,” explains Meyer.

The residents approved of the change, and the project got underway. Floyd Total Security set up an information kiosk, which was staffed by Floyd, to provide residents with details on the system and installation time tables.

Installation, which began in October 2011, took about five weeks: a week for preparation, loading the software, and training and then about four weeks to switch out the residence locks. The perimeter doors switched over to the new system last.

The most time-consuming part of the installation was establishing zones for different individuals. “Six people have access to the entire facility. Everyone else can access a specific zone that coordinates to their needs,” explains Meyer.

To meet the needs of all the residents, Floyd established 17 different zones. For example, certain residents with physical limitations are not allowed in the swimming pool area. Similarly, residents must be certified to use the wood shop. Residents must attend a wood shop seminar before their card will be programmed to access that area. Various employees at the facility, like nurses and housekeepers, have a range of scheduled time needs, and their access cards are programmed accordingly.

There was no need to put wiring through walls because the locks create a wireless hot spot. Changes are made to a card via a software program in the director’s office. Once the card is used on one lock, those changes are communicated through the wireless network to all the locks.

While the software resides at the facility, the system is hosted at the corporate headquarters in Des Moines. Since Friendship Village installed the system, five more facilities have switched over.

The cards are blank, with no room numbers or IDs, so someone finding the card would have no way of knowing what room or resident it was linked to. Once the lost card is deleted from the system, it will no longer provide access.

The system keeps a log that tracks who accesses each door. The residents can ask for a print-out of the log at any time. “The system will tell the resident or their family who enters their room at any point,” says Meyer. This feature has already been used for investigative purposes. It was used to exonerate staff suspected of theft. “Residents felt things were missing, and we could prove that members of the cleaning staff did not access the room at the time in question,” he says.