Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Hudson Valley provides reliable, high quality care for its home health and hospice patients, but for a long time could not expect the same treatment from its own phone system. In July of 2009, with equipment nearing the decade-old mark and manufactured by a company which was no longer in business, VNA of Hudson Valley was having trouble even keeping day-to-day communications operational. “At one point, we had no voicemail for three days,” says Director of Information Systems Ed Fricke. Ed’s team was on guard day and night for system crashes, during which calls had to be routed manually and messages taken by hand. In the early years these crashes could be fixed with a reboot, but more recently had become more and more difficult to resolve. “It was an unstable solution. We’re a home healthcare organization; we can’t afford to have a situation where we’re not available.”
In addition to the faulty equipment, VNA was also experiencing major service issues. With a T1 line stretching between VNA locations in Pelham and Mount Kisco, whenever the line went down they were at the mercy of both their reseller and the local telephone company, creating a frustrating situation with unclear accountability which bred a consistent lack of responsiveness. “I would call our vendor and our vendor would call the phone company. Four hours later, I’d still heard back nothing, yet callers to our organization are getting busy signals when calling our offices. I felt there wasn’t a lot of concern or a lot of energy.”
Eventually, the phone system failed and could not be revived. Ed had already begun researching new systems and service providers, but now they needed to move more quickly and had little time to continue reviewing vendors. At first, they decided to go with a leading provider of cloud computing and hosted solutions. “It looked pretty attractive – we’d be leasing the phones and we’d get a system refresh in 5 years.” However, the more Ed learned about the system, the more wary he grew. “As things went by, I found out that the functionality of the phone system was less than what our old system had. You could only leave a one minute voicemail and then it would hang up on you.” The system also lacked a customizable ring tone and wasn’t able to store voicemails for as long as was needed. Each time he voiced a concern, Ed was told that “it could be fixed,” but he would soon learn that his worries were justified.
Almost immediately after installation began, some of the phones stopped working, including that of the CEO. Upon further inspection, Ed discovered that the supposedly new equipment that had been installed was actually reused. The phones had another company’s name on them. Unhappy with the broken promises, VNA asked the new provider to remove the equipment. Ed recalls his exasperation: “Now I’m in the exact same position as I was when I started.”
After recounting this horror story to a contact in the telephone industry, Ed received a recommendation for Select Telecom. Ed contacted Senior Account Manager Peter Serri at Select Telecom and explained the situation. “We were in dire straits and needed to turn this around quickly.… Peter really took control of the situation and piloted this project from the get-go.” The next day, Peter and a team from Select Telecom visited the VNA office to demo a variety of phones and outline several options for system capabilities. Though Ed was also considering a comparable offer on a competing system, he recommended to his executive officers that the agency should go with Select Telecom. “I was more impressed with Select Telecom’s presentation and had complete confidence that they would be able to do it in the extraordinarily small timeframe I had given them.”
Ed wasn’t disappointed. “Select Telecom was able to turn this around in less than a week. I was absolutely astounded.” After completing the demo on a Thursday and receiving confirmation of the order that evening, Peter had the equipment – a large system with 135 phones – overnighted so that work could begin the next day. By Saturday night, the installation was complete. “The Select Telecom technicians were extremely professional,” Ed recalls. “They were seeking granular information to effectively program the system. We went through a lot of minutiae in an incredibly short period of time.” Thanks to the technicians’ attention to detail, the transition to the new system was very smooth, with no issues beyond the few small glitches which are to be expected on a massive system upgrade. On Monday morning, Danielle Morrissey from Select Telecom was at VNA to host a training course for employees.
After upgrading to the advanced new phone system, the VNA staff still had questions after training was complete. Ed stepped in to assist his colleagues, with help from the service department at Select Telecom. “I was fielding questions as best I could, but I needed help too. Select Telecom was extremely responsive. They would get a tech over here immediately, or if they could talk through it on the phone, they would address my question right then and there.” After receiving a formal round of training on the administrative functions of the system, Ed was in good shape. “These days I do very well with the system. Because of the manageability, I have less need for service calls and can handle about 75% more than I could with our old system, which was DOS-based and required a proprietary laptop connection, effectively preventing me from managing the system without vendor assessment. Before I was able to do only the bare minimum of administrative tasks, but with the web portal in our new system, I rarely need to contact Select for day-to-day changes. It’s been months since I had a tech on site. It’s a testament to the reliability of the system and how it has given me the ability to do programming myself.”
Ed reports that VNA has seen significant improvements in the efficiency and reliability of communication since the new system was installed. “Sometimes we have a patient in distress and things need to be addressed quickly. It’s literally a life or death situation, so it’s imperative that we’re able to contact our employees. With our new system, we can get in touch with our employees very quickly using a plethora of options provided by our system.” The few times that Select Telecom has needed to step in since the installation, Ed has been very pleased with the service VNA received. “When I do request a technician, I find that Select Telecom is extremely responsive. They get the fact that we’re a home healthcare organization and we cannot sit around and wait for something to be fixed. If we have an issue which impacts productivity of our staff, that’s obviously a problem. However, most importantly, we must always be accessible to our patients 24 hours a day. Anything preventing us from normal operations is not acceptable. We’re considered first responders in Westchester County, and it’s absolutely imperative that we’re able to be reached at all times.”
Ed has also been relieved that he is no longer apprehensive about the system going down. “With my old provider, I had a lot of anxiety because they didn’t respond in a way that made me feel like a valued customer and like they grasped the demands of our industry. With Select Telecom, if we had a catastrophic failure, I have complete 100% confidence that we could emulate the system in another location immediately. I’m at a place where I can sit back and relax because I know that I’m in capable hands.”
After his experiences with the successful expedited installation and reliable ongoing service, Ed intends to continue his relationship with Select Telecom in the future, including at a new VNA location which is currently in the planning stage. “Because of my experience with Select Telecom, there’s no question in my mind that that’s who we’re going to go with when we open that Putnam location.” In fact, Ed has already begun working with Select Telecom to determine the optimal configuration for the new office. “I had a call with Mike Durante last week, and he and I spoke for an hour going over rough ideas for the new location. That’s the President of the company giving me that much time. I’m impressed by that.” With a dependable phone system and responsive service provider, the Visiting Nurse Association of Hudson Valley is able to focus 100% of their energy on patient care, quality and compassion.