E43: Trish Barbato, SVP of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Revera – Interview

July 26, 2016


This great interview was with Trish Barbato. Trish is the Senior Vice President, Innovation & Strategic Partnerships at Revera Living. Revera is a huge senior living company. They own or manage over 500 properties and serve over 45,000 seniors.

Trish is in charge of bringing innovation and new partners into Revera. I wanted to talk to Trish about how she thinks about innovation, evaluates it, and her vision for senior housing. It’s such an interesting topic.

Here are some other topics we talk about:

-How do you identify innovative technologies/companies and work with them?
-How do you choose what to focus on? Is it ROI driven? Do you score potential projects?
-What technologies/companies especially excite you?
-How do you evaluate if innovation programs are successful?
-What’s an example of how a technology can help your senior residents?


David Kruse: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Flyover Labs. This is Dave Kruse from Madison, Wisconsin, and today we are lucky enough to have Trish Barbato with us. And Trish is the Senior Vice President of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Revera Living. Revera is a huge senior living company located in Toronto, Canada. They own or manage over 500 properties and serve over 45,000 seniors, so that’s a lot. So Trish is in charge of bringing innovation and new partners into Revera, which is a tall order, but quite an interesting one and that’s why I brought on Trish to the show. I just want to talk to her about how she thinks about innovation in this filed and her vision for Senior Housing. So it’s a real interesting and timely topic I think. So Trish, thanks for joining us today.

Trish Barbato: Thank you so much. So happy to be here.

David Kruse: Definitely, and so maybe before we get into what you are doing right now, could you give us a little background on how you came to be a Head of Innovation and that would be great, so we get to know you a little bit better.

Trish Barbato: Yes. Well I think sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. I think that was a bit of what happened with me. I’ve been with Revera for almost seven years and I was running their homecare division and when we decided to divest that, the company had innovation as one of its pillars for the strategic plan, and the CEO approached me to – instead of going with the divestment to stay on and lead this role, which also includes the IT department and still it was a wonderful opportunity for me and at the time – this was about a year ago, it was really ground zero, there was nothing in place.

David Kruse: Wow! Interesting, okay. And what – yes, so we have to talk about that, that’s not easy. What about before Revera, what did – what were some of your positions and projects you worked on at other companies.

Trish Barbato: I actually have great background in homecare. I’m a CTA, I’m an account by background. So I’ve worked in hospitals, long term care, billed nursing. I’ve worked in mental health, I’ve worked in community services and I’ve had President and CEO roles. I’ve had Chief Financial Officer roles, CIO roles, Chief of Operating Officer role. So I’ve been really blessed in my career to have Senior Executive Positions in a real cross range of for profit, not for profit across the healthcare continuum.

David Kruse: Interesting, and do you think that’s why you were a good fit for the innovation, Head of Innovation, because you had such a wide breadth in your career, coving different areas?

Trish Barbato: Yes, definitely, I think it’s partially that the CEO thought I had the skills that would be able to execute on the innovation agenda and then just partially in terms of timing and the opportunity coming up.

David Kruse: Got you, that makes sense. And so as Head of Innovation, what’s your role? Of course to be innovative, but what does that mean? What are your priorities and what are you expected to do?

Trish Barbato: So I have broken innovation into a number of components and one of them is around incremental innovation, which is what you think about when you think about asking staff how we can improve your department or your area and so in that one we created a challenge this year and we asked our sites to come up with one great idea, engage their residence, engage their staff and then we got almost a 100 ideas, those were bedded and we talked to our innovation council and the top 20 are doing a shark tank dragon den style pitch event next week and so that is going to be a lot of fun and we are going to broadcast that through a webinar across the country, so that people can watch it and cheer their team on and that sort of thing. So that’s been great.

David Kruse: Interesting. All right and so that’s the incremental change. How about, do you look at bigger picture change as well?

Trish Barbato: Yes. So we have another pillar that we call transformational innovation and in this one I would say that we’ve got a new program called Innovators in Aging. So the Innovators in Ageing program is a program where new companies or early stage companies can apply. We have a process for them to be assessed and basically if they meet our business criteria, which is to enhance the resident experience, engage employees, find efficiencies, increase revenue etcetera, if they sort of fit into that and it makes sense that its linked to one of our priorities, we would put them through a process of piloting within site, being assessed through those pilots for outcomes, potentially receiving money from us, so we have a $20 million fund that’s available over the next five or six years to support companies to scale. And so we are also working with that and we had a great example of one. For example, that is a contents product that fits outside of our brief. So if you can imagine in residential facilities where people are being checked needlessly or changed needlessly and their sleep is interrupted or their dignity is compromised, and so this is a way for an alert to go automatically to the staff and the person doesn’t have to be actually checked. You sort of know when they need to be changed and that sort of thing. So that was a bit of a win-win in a sense that we were able to support the company, we invested and aligned them and supported them to find other partners and pilot in our sites, etcetera.

David Kruse: Well, that’s a great example. So how do you find those companies? Do they find you or kind of those third party companies that you bring in?

Trish Barbato: That’s a great question. I would say that, it’s happening. The more the word gets out there, the more we get inundated there. So I don’t think – the size side seems pretty rich. There is also some great strategic partnerships, which is another one of the pillars that I’ve been working on. It’s finding like-minded organizations that help us with that both push and pull of this need of ideas. So one of them is called Agent 2.0. Agent 2.0 is an ecosystem out of San Francisco and they bring together capital for venture capital and other capital partner. They bring industry, people like ourselves and other in the home care continuing to get skilled nursing, independent living etcetera, and they also have the innovators and start-ups and that sort of thing. And so they had, they are just doing a global start-up search and we hosted one in Toronto, but these are being hosted in cities around the world, where pitch events are happening that are Agent 2.0 sponsored and the pitch winners will then move on to the global pitch competition. So in Toronto we had six companies pitch. I was one of the judges that just happened a couple of nights ago and its really incredible some of the things that we are seeing. One of the really interesting ones was a couple of kids, they are in high school if you can believe that, and they have developed a sensor that just goes on your wrist, kind of like a watch. But what it measures is hearth condition, ECG and what happens if you go into any kind of cardiac arrest or anything that would require emergency services, it automatically calls emergency services and sends them to your GPS location.

David Kruse: Wow! That’s like…

Trish Barbato: Right, they are in high school. I just want to repeat that.

David Kruse: That’s amazing.

Trish Barbato: Yes, isn’t that – that’s like crazy.

David Kruse: That makes me feel very underwhelmed. I’m talking about myself.

Trish Barbato: Right, totally, totally, totally.

David Kruse: I was not doing that in high school. Interesting, well I love those stories. And to that, is there – I was curious to know if anything got you real excited that you have seen. So I’m sure you’ve probably have seen quite a few companies and technologies. So what’s excited you, but then also what do you think is missing or what are some of these companies missing from the big pictures or are they missing anything, because they might have an interesting technology, but how do you actually integrate that day-to-day. Do you see…

Trish Barbato: Yes, well I think you kind of, you sort of answered the question. I would say that probably if I think about, well let’s start with the positive. What I feel most excited about and I’m inspired by all the time, and I don’t know if this is a confluence of the entrepreneurship engine that I think has been inspired by programs like Shark Tank and Drag 7 Canada and other programs like that, where we are seeing a lot more young people interested in solving again problems. I just find that fascinating. The company if we stick to the example I gave you of that contents company, these are young men in their 20s who spend time walking around in briefs to really understand what the business feel like. They lived in a home for six months.

David Kruse: Wow!

Trish Barbato: So yeah, right, who does that? And the kind of insight that they were able to gather before of that I think was quite phenomenal. And so I would say that the thing that inspires me the most is that – is seeing young entrepreneurs who are interested in the aging space, who are really trying to make a difference and they have such bandwidth. I mean I think about these guys, my goodness, they probably have five other problems that the solved while they were living there that they could solve for us, which is fantastic. And then I think when you talked about what’s missing, it’s almost exactly what you said. I think that the technology in healthcare is clunky. It’s not the kind of technology that is easy to have ATI, easy to have integration with and that to me is a big problem. We don’t have nimbleness in healthcare. The whole healthcare arena is bureaucratic and its slow to change and its silos and I feel like if we can – if with the help of innovation if we can start to integrate more easily, more readily, where we make it much more seamless for front like staff to their job and do it well, then that going to revolutionize healthcare.

David Kruse: Got you and like this incandescent, it sounds like it could, because it’s more of a visual queue, which is nice. Do you have other ideas around that, how to make it more seamless? I put you on the spot?

Trish Barbato: Yes, I mean ideally, ideally. If I am a nurse or a front line service staff provider, I should be able to on my phone easily do my job. So right from whether its documentation of the things that are happening with the people who I am serving or its getting the alerts that you are talking about, even though they might be coming from five different innovations or whatever they are coming from, those need to easily integrate into the health record. It needs to be a simple communication tool for need to speak to whether its family members, whether it’s my colleague and this all needs to be able to be done without, again it’s a lot of customer usability. So that needs to be high in order for that function to work well. That’s what I would – that would be the dream, that we accomplish that.

David Kruse: Got you. Like kind of a completely integrated system for your employees to manage the day to day and putting up any problems and issues, that’s interesting. And where are you at now with that work. How do you…

Trish Barbato: Yes, I think it’s like I said, part of the problem is that there are big legacy systems that sit in hospitals or sit in skilled nursing facilities, independent living retirement homes and trying to – you have to start with something as your kind of base and then it starts to add on to that, and so yes. So we are working on it, we are working with our partners and I think again, I think that over time someone is going to solve this. Someone is going to figure out how to make this much, much easier and we are looking forward to piloting that and putting it through our innovators and aging program.

David Kruse: I like it. Yes, I love your attitude. I mean that’s why I always like it when some of these larger companies have people who are in Innovation, because that’s why drives the change and you guys are – you’re so open to ideas and you got a lot of good ideas yourself and you can quickly assess whether ideas are interesting or not, so that’s quite valuable. And I was curious going back to the Shark Tank idea, which is really good. I mean that sounds pretty fun. I might want to check out the webcast, I don’t know, I’m sure its private, but if say two or three of those ideas are really striking and they are like, Wow! This is really interesting, would you guys that develop that internally or how would you bring about like an internal innovation like that.

Trish Barbato: Yes, I think some of them might be things that we could do, we could work internally with. But I think some of them will lend themselves to partnering with companies that we perhaps have seen, but we didn’t know how they would fit in. So for example one of the areas that people want improvement on is the dining experience, especially for those who have trouble with solid food. So they want food that alter diet that are visually appealing, that still look like what they are supposed look like and I think that again goes back to dignity and independence and so again, that might be something that, if that’s one of the winners, we would start to look at the market and see what exists currently. We have a lot of other options. I mean one of the things in Innovation that’s really taking a hold is doing either hackathon or price money. So getting a group together, there is a whole infrastructure now for hackathon, so you can give, you can throw a problem out there, you can have a weekend where people can get together and there is some kind of price for it and there you go, there is design, you got custom solution for you, and that’s something that might be another option for us in doing and we would certainly be willing to explore.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay. And I was going to ask about food later, but since you brought it up, I was curious if, yes, what you are thinking about around – if we have thoughts around food and health. You have the vision kind of from the employee standpoint, which is really interesting, but how about from the – do you have any thoughts on food and where you want it go or what you are looking for.

Trish Barbato: Yes, I mean I think we just did – Revera actually has a report that we are going to be issuing next week and it’s on independence and choice and that’s one of the main themes that’s coming out of the demographic that is aging; is that that is so important to them to have independence and choice. And if you think about the way that facilities are kind of structured right now, generally the food is not that great. It’s hard to give a lot of choice, because you are trying feed a lot of people, you are trying to serve food at the same time to a big group and you are doing that day after day and what if we turn that on his head and what if people could eat what they wanted, when they wanted and how do we accommodate that, how do we accommodate more independence in choice in the dining experience. Definitely an area that we are looking at. It’s a really important component of people lives and it’s kind of like a highlight of the day and its definitely an area that we want to see someone else in our picture there next week.

David Kruse: Interesting and do you provide food service at most of your facilities?

Trish Barbato: Yes, all of them, all of them.

David Kruse: All of them, okay. So all your facilities are, and we didn’t talk too much about exactly what it is where I gave the brief poorly intro, but its – you have over 500 communities you manage or own, and what type of communities are those? Are they assisted living or nursing homes or…

Trish Barbato: Yes, we have a full range. So we are have just senior, completely independent senior apartments and then we have independent living, we have assessed living, we have memory care, we have long term care, so like skilled nursing facilities, we have the whole range.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay. So you’ve got a lot to think about, because like each one of those probably has their own needs and so you almost have four or five businesses you are trying to think about from an innovation standpoint. I mean is somewhat of a crossover, but it makes your job just that much more interesting, we’ll see.

Trish Barbato: Yes. And then how can you – and thinking about how you can program things that have a general framework, but then sites have freedom within that framework. So you are not taking the – all of the autonomy away from sites to do something that’s much more local or much more a custom or a tradition that happens in their local community or region.

David Kruse: That’s good, and you won’t happen to have an example of the top of your head, where that came into play.

Trish Barbato: Yes, there is – oh gosh, there is so many. Even when you think about art, so we had sort of standard art that was in our faculties and the people in the west, in the queries complained like crazy, because there is all this art that had water, you know ocean. So things that they don’t – are not as meaningful to them and so the art program was actually redesigned to make sure that it took into the account the geography and I would say that was also true in terms of, if you think about what people eat in the West Coast where they wanted to see fish on the menu more, then let’s say in some of our other regions for me, it was more of a vocal point during their regular lives before they moved into one of the communities. And so thinking about those things and trying to again give that independence and choice is really important.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay. And so you have lots of companies coming at you. You have internal projects. How do you figure out what to work on and what’s the process, because you only have so much bandwidth in your team and so how do you decide? Is it – do you score projects, is it kind of a gut feeling, do you look at the ROI, well how – you mentioned how it will impact the seniors as well of course. Yes, how do you – what goes through the head?

Trish Barbato: Yes. So we – last year I did a pretty comprehensive survey that went up to residents, family members and staff. We had over 400 respondents and that allowed us to hone in on priority areas which included interestingly the responses differed. So if you are a family member, they cared about communication the most, the ease of commutation. If you were resident, you cared about dignity, so they cared about continent that was actually one of their main areas. And then if we were a staff member, you cared about risk issue, like falls, wounds and that sort of thing. So it gave us a pretty good idea of sort of four, five priority areas that we wanted to zoom in on initially, so that was a really good process and I was would speak to, make sure you are getting the voice of the resident. Another great program that we just launched is Resident Innovation Ambassador. These are our residents that are in home, living in our home, so we have two right now, one is the east and one on the west. Their job is to ensure that they give us direct impute. They are on the Innovation Councils. One of them will be part of the judges’ panel next week. So we are really trying to make a focal point, is that the voice of the customer, the voice of the customer is at the decision making table. It’s right there to get their view point and their insight and I think that that is really important to make sure that you are going and your prioritizing correctly and you are making the right decision.

David Kruse: Interesting. And so did you, did you set up all this up in the past year?

Trish Barbato: Yes, a lot has happened.

David Kruse: You have been busy.

Trish Barbato: Yes, it’s been great. Yes, there is a whole infrastructure that didn’t exist, so I’m very proud of that.

David Kruse: And so have you kind of worked with the people, Head of Innovation in other companies to put some of these processes in place, I would think that…

Trish Barbato: Yes absolutely.

David Kruse: What you’ve done here is a lot.

Trish Barbato: I always tell people, I don’t like reinventing the wheel, so basically I steal ideas as much as humanly possible. So my first – yes, my first order of business when I took on this role is I reached out. I just used LinkedIn, I cold called people and said can you just talk to me for 15 minutes I want to understand how you do Innovation in your company. I did a bit of a review of literature that’s sort of out there in books, but certainly talking to people who either has this kind of thing in their company. What’s interesting is that it’s not that established yet, especially in my sector, but that might be true in many sectors where there isn’t sort of someone that’s thinking about it and making it a priority in their company and that is a shame that is a shame.

David Kruse: No, I agree. I mean I think it’s becoming more prevalent, but to your point there’s a lot of companies that do not have people in Innovation. But for people in start-ups and technology, I think it’s really exciting when they do, because it’s kind of like the door to a company to build a partner. Like before it’s like who do we talk to, but now the Innovation folks are hungry for new ideas and so yes, it’s great and it sounds like you are quite a good spokesperson for that, which is nice. So I’m curious with like this incontinence product, how do you – do you have a process in place and maybe it’s not a formal process, but when you identify an external innovation, like how this is pretty interesting. This could really help us. How do you – what’s the processing to take it from the initial conversation all the way to making it main stream and maybe you haven’t made anything main stream, which is, since you’ve only been there a year, but how do you kind of test out an idea and work with an external team?

Trish Barbato: So we like to look at the people behind the innovation. So are they focused on what they are doing, are they fully committed, that’s really important, who are you going to be working with. We definitely spend time thinking about that and interviewing them around that and then the other part is really just testing their product in our sites and listening to our residents and the staff and the family members on how is it working for them. It doesn’t meet their needs. And if that’s working, then we move to thinking about the investment.

David Kruse: Got you, okay. And if you bring an external innovation, do you typically invest in that company before bringing them, using their product?

Trish Barbato: Yes, we would try and get a small equity state, ideally, but not always, but that’s something that we definitely try to do and then if we can, obviously want to support some scale and using our network as a turning point is a really good one.

David Kruse: Okay, got you. And we are nearing the end here, but I got a couple more questions; well two or three, and one of them is around kind of you vision for the home. From the perspective of you mentioned that employees they care a lot of safety, how – what are you looking at in order to try to make these apartments and homes safer from falls or whatever might be?

Trish Barbato: Yes. So we for example with falls, that’s an interesting one, because people want to try to walk, they don’t want to use their walker. So in some ways we want to have the balance letting people try and be independent, which means help them. There is a product actually that is like an airbag deployment. So it’s – I know, very interesting, so it’s like a belt that you can put around people especially one to a risk of falling, but they still want to walk and if they are falling the hip, it inflates. So it totally reduces the risk of a hip fracture.

David Kruse: That’s sleek, have you seen it, does it seem to work?

Trish Barbato: Yes, we’ve already talked to them. They were still too early stage with their prototype, but we have them on our follow-up for 2017.

David Kruse: Okay and that leads in perfectly to my next question. For a start-up or a company with a technology that you could be interested in, like do you have advice for them? Like at what stage should they approach you? How should they approach you? Yes what – should they have a product ready to go on the market or could they approach you earlier on for your feedback.

Trish Barbato: Yes, we have a process that we use to again have people come in, we get to through our subject matter expert. So these are clinical people or culinary people with services etcetera, and then we that hold it against our priorities and then we will be in touch with folks that kind of make it through that initial screening. So best thing to do is just to reach out to us. Again, you can do that through our website ReveraLiving.com and then we try to take it to our process from there.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay. And last question. For those – we touched on it, but for those people are at the companies who want to set up an innovation team, what advice do you have for them. It sounds like they should probably hire you to help implement it, but what…

Trish Barbato: The most important things is to assign the job to somebody. It can’t be – you cannot do innovation from the side of your desk. Somebody’s job has to stay in it. You are responsible for creating an innovation culture or driving innovation into our company. If you don’t have that in your company, I guarantee it will never happen.

David Kruse: Interesting, and how do you create milestones or goals for the innovation team, because it’s a little different in some other departments, what defines success I guess, how would you set that up.

Trish Barbato: Yes, I’ve had to do that for myself, but I’ve also done it across. So partly its, certainly at the beginning of just setting up a framework and so your success is related to getting things done. But ultimately my measure of success will be that we have implemented product and services and technology into our homes that make a difference to the resident and the family that we service. That will be ultimately the measure of success. So I can have satisfaction scores go up, I can have employee engagement scores going up, I might have an efficiency, a revenue, a clinical improve. So I think that once you get into it you can actually drive short term based performance for the role.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay. Well, I think that just about does is for time which is too bad. But that’s how it goes. So Trish, definitely I appreciate you coming on the show. It is fascinating and you are doing a lot of interesting, but also meaningful work and helping, because we are all getting older, so eventually we’ll all be there. So hopefully we’ll have better and better experiences as time goes on. So it’s great what you’re doing and thanks for sharing your thoughts and stories with us.

Trish Barbato: You’re welcome. Totally my pleasure.

David Kruse: And thanks everyone for listening to another episode of Flyover Labs and I definitely appreciate it and I’ll see you next time.