At CORI, we are interested in broadening the conversation about rural America and sharing stories from local change agents and entrepreneurs who are driving innovation in the small towns and communities they call home. Our Rural Edge series features conversations with the people who are changing the narrative about what’s possible in rural America.
We recently chatted with Connor Dahlberg, the CEO and Founder of Arsana Health, a health IT startup. Arsana Health’s technology is designed specifically for the Post Acute Health Care environment (nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living, etc). The platform creates an infrastructure for quality patient care through integrated patient views designed to elevate complex cases for clinical evaluation, remote monitoring, changes in condition, and triggers to assess.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
What is the Arsana Platform? What does it offer?
Arsana is a health risk management system specifically addressing the challenges of protecting and caring for our most frail and vulnerable loved ones living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. The Arsana Platform is the evolution of the WashSense technology. The Arsana software solves those problems created by fragmented and inaccessible data, and WashSense Smart Handwashing devices deliver real-time care messages and education to care workers while improving hand hygiene performance.
The WashSense devices were initially designed to engage residents, guests, and staff to improve hand washing best practices as well as compliance. The devices already displayed public health and educational messages but we also wanted to send specific protocol reminders for clinical intervention. So we created software with the capability to detect, “hey, the residents on this wing are showing an uptick of fever, respiratory symptoms or antibiotic usage,” and then automatically send custom training messages to the devices. The outcome was significant, decreasing the spread of infection and preventing future complications. As our technology evolved, we expanded the Arsana Platform for clinical practitioners to more efficiently and effectively intervene in the care of their patients.
Arsana is two Latin words combined. “Ars” is the “mastery of” and “Sana” means “to heal”. AI powered analytics elevate complex medical information for clinical evaluation and the Arsana software facilitates care coordination to trigger assessments or interventions to prevent adverse events. Because a long term care environment is somewhat contained—with known visitors and a specified number of exits—WashSense and Arsana automate the process of understanding the health risks in the facility, and then communicate that information for practitioners and staff to address as it is happening.
How has COVID-19 impacted nursing homes and assisted living facilities? Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with them and why Arsana decided to focus on them?
COVID-19 has been devastating for these communities. My dad is a long-term care doctor, and when I was young I went with him to hang out with the residents whenever he was making rounds. I have a good understanding of what these facilities can do for people, and have had a front row seat to see how the industry has changed throughout the years. A decade prior to the outbreak, nursing homes and assisted living facilities were a place for people to send elderly loved ones who had complicated health issues and required a place to receive ongoing care so they could decline safely with dignity.
Over the years, partially due to the rising costs of care, hospitals began discharging patients quicker and sicker into these facilities. Nursing homes have evolved into facilities that not only care for our most vulnerable population, but also manage complex, hospital-level patients—just without the hospital level resources. And COVID-19 has magnified just how under-resourced these nursing homes really are. The pandemic has shown, even with the expansion (and expense) of personal protective equipment and social distancing measures, how increasingly challenging it is to keep residents safe in these dense living communities. And it has disproportionately impacted and harmed this population.
Maybe the most important thing to understand is how different these facilities are from hospitals. The doctors aren’t “on staff”, most of the services provided are from contractors or third parties. Patients don’t come for only 3 to 5 days; they stay for weeks, months or years. For many residents, this is the last home they’ll ever know. These facilities are really communities. Residents socialize and share meals, and staff take care of their daily needs such as bathing and tucking them into bed. The facility staff are more than just nurses or workers. They are the primary caregivers. Some residents would even describe them as family.
The Arsana solution is designed specifically to help care for the complexity of the residents, their fragility, the density of the living arrangements, and the decentralized nature of the care providers. We are grateful that our practitioners tell us Arsana is making a difference, especially now, in a time of such critical need and as we prepare to reopen for family visits and community gatherings.
Why is the partnership with CORI through the CORI Innovation Fund exciting to you?
Working with the CORI Innovation Fund is synergistic with Arsana because both are committed to innovation, creating opportunities that aren’t always obvious and to driving growth and viability. There are nursing facilities in every rural community. And I think the trick to resiliency and solving problems sustainably, especially with technology, is to be present where the resources are limited. It forces you to be visionary in your perspective, creative about your business model, and persistent in your purpose. Also, Arsana is excited to hire talent in smaller communities because people, especially when given the opportunity for professional growth, are committed to the mission as well as the overall success of the company.
This story is part of CORI’s Rural Edge series, which features conversations with the people who are changing the narrative about what’s possible in rural America. To see more profiles of rural innovators or to learn more about CORI’s work building digital economy ecosystems in small towns across the country, you can sign up for our newsletter. If you’d like to nominate a compelling rural leader for the Rural Edge Series, let us know.