Tenera Care‘s wearable technology can detect who someone has interacted with, at what distance, and for how long—transforming contact tracing in care homes

Not too long ago, in the middle of the night, Stewart Hardie’s stepmother fell in the bathroom of her long-term care home. Then she fell again. And again—three times in a single month. She had early-onset dementia and didn’t understand how to alert the nurse, a process that somehow—well into the 21st century—still involves pulling a cord that’s mounted on a wall. “In senior care facilities, the requirements are to have a cord in the bathroom, a button on the bed, and a light outside the room,” Hardie says. “That’s it. You say it out loud and think you’re talking about 1960, not 2020.”

So for the past five years, Hardie and his team at Tenera Care have worked to make senior residences a safer (and savvier) place. They’ve built their own cloud-based indoor-positioning system, which geofences the spaces in a care facility: the bedrooms, the beds, the bathrooms, the toilets, the dining room, IV carts, wheelchairs, all within a foot accuracy, in real time. The platform even geofences people—residents, but also visitors and staff—through a wearable device, usually a bracelet, in order to monitor movements and location. 

Since the nursing staff can’t watch every resident every minute, they’re alerted by notification if an event maybe about to happen. If, for example, a resident gets out of bed, or two residents who are not friendly with each other come too close, the staff will know. “This is a tool that really helps with behavioural care strategies,” says Jason Shannon, President of Shannex, which has Tenera Care pilots in three of its facilities. Patterns of resident movement, lack of movement or even change in patterns can tell us a lot as to what’s happening with residents health and care needs. Tenera can monitor all of this information without human intervention.

“Our product is a quality-of-life record,” Hardie says. “And we felt that was a more compelling story than just saying, hey, we have a really cool nurse-call system where they don’t have to pull a cord.” By late last year, Tenera Care was ready to go to market, with contracts secured in the US. Then the pandemic hit.

“We were at the airport when everything shut down,” Hardie says. He and head of strategy Kevin Rimmer were on their way back from Arkansas by way of New Jersey, where they were about to sign a deal for a pilot there. “I got a message from the company saying, yeah, this isn’t happening today. You best go back to Canada.” 

It was on the flight home to Halifax—before a two-week stint quarantining in his basement—that Hardie had his eureka moment. “Everyone was talking about social distancing and contact tracing,” he says. “I realized, holy cow, we do that right now. And I think we do it better than anybody in the world.” Tenera Care’s system can be programmed to send an alert when two people come within two metres of each other. Voila: social distancing. And if those two people are within, say, two metres of each other for a few minutes? A record is made for contact tracing. 

“In nursing homes across Canada, Public Health has to use a very conservative, cautious approaches during outbreaks —in one case we had a staff person infected in Sydney [Nova Scotia], and working with Public Health, we had to put out 17 of our staff within an hour,” Shannon says. “But Tenera lets us transition from guesstimating about exposure to evidence-based contact training, which would allow us to know for certain which staff and residents were exposed. That’s a game-changer in minimizing the spread of infection and also to know who can remain at work.”

Creative Destruction Lab agreed, and this spring, Tenera Care was admitted to CDL’s rapid response innovation program, CDL Recovery. “As a result of this pandemic, things have to change, and I believe that CDL can play a role in accelerating some of the solutions we need,” says Chris Huskilson, founding partner of CDL-Atlantic and former CEO and president of Emera Inc. “Tenera Care has a solution that’s very much needed on a global basis.”

Walerud Ventures partner Jane Walerud adds, “Generally, internal positioning is not that accurate, maybe within a metre or two, and in two dimensions. The networking Tenera Care does is miraculous. And they’re ethical, nice people trying to do something good for other people—what’s not to like? There was a lot of enthusiasm from the associates at CDL.”

That enthusiasm provided Tenera Care with the validation it needed from, as Hardie says, “a room full of really smart people that have had a lot of successes in different areas—not just in business, but in research, politics, military, all sorts of different fields.” The venture had among the most number of hands raised in every session, and by the end of the program, five CDL mentors expressed a desire to finance their growth. 

The mentors also provided Tenera Care with connections to major players in a host of other industries, from food processing to fishing to education—all of whom could benefit from technology that helps with social distancing and contact tracing. In the end, after numerous conversations, the team decided to stick with long-term care for the near-term future, focusing on doing one job extremely well. 

“CDL exposed us to different opportunities, and helped us understand that long-term care is where we’re going to make the most difference right now,” Hardie says. Still, Scott Saxberg, CEO of Icebook Investments Corp, is confident Tenera Care has a stellar future in many markets. “Long-term care is their baseline business—it gets them into orbit,” he says. “But with technology like this, they could go a lot farther. The next phase could get them to the moon or Mars.”