Virtual reality + senior citizens. At first, it might sound like an unlikely combination. But VR has been shown to improve issues related to mental distress, memory function, and cognition in older adults, who are often spatially and socially separated from others. For the Brome-Missisquoi Caregiver Support Group (BMCSG), virtual reality offered a new way to enrich the daily lives of their clients—many of whom are senior citizens with limited mobility and social contact.
BMSCG is a nonprofit organization in Cowansville, Quebec that’s been offering support and respite services to caregivers for over 20 years. They’d recently purchased an Oculus VR headset with funding from a New Horizons for Seniors Program grant that aims to entertain or enrich the daily lives of seniors. But they quickly realized they would need specialized programming and an adjusted setup so that caregivers could support seniors using the device.
“Our clients are not able to operate [the headsets] on their own,” says Christine Tougas, BMSCG’s Executive Director. “That’s where our challenge lies. We need to be able to control the images in devices like that, to make people experience other things, to bring them elsewhere, and then to open up subjects of conversation, of reflection for them.”
Around the same time, the BMSCG realized it also needed to update its database management system for customer information. With their current database, extracting data for advanced reporting was nearly impossible; whenever a department asked for very specific reports that involved cross-checking data, Tougas “used to do all that by hand.”
Tougas had started taking steps to find a service provider for the VR project after receiving the New Horizons for Seniors Program grant a few months prior, but “we hit a wall there, it wasn’t working.” The BMSCG had also considered switching to a new data management system in the past. But that search had fallen by the wayside until the onset of COVID-19, when pandemic restrictions and stay-at-home orders intensified the need for a centralized database with remote access. That’s when Tougas decided to use helloDarwin to help her find a suitable outsourcing partner for both of BMSCG’s digital projects.
Navigating the search process with helloDarwin's guidance and support
To kick off the search process, Tougas had a conversation with Olivier, one of helloDarwin’s expert advisors, to better understand the BMSCG’s needs and create a custom mandate for each project. “I don’t know anything about information technology,” says Tougas. “I found myself in a world I didn’t know at all, anyone could tell me anything. I didn't know where to start. Olivier showed me what could be done. It was quick. The answers were quick. I saw that I was dealing with people who were passionate, people who knew their stuff.”
Due to the large scope of both projects, BMSCG used helloDarwin’s premium-level project support, which offers additional benefits such as tailored pre-selection, selection, and presentation of potential service providers; a dedicated project manager to help you track, analyze, and compare submitted quotes; access to helloDarwin’s in-house industry experts to help you understand and prioritize your business needs; and a “Premium project” label to attract premium suppliers. That meant that Olivier was there to support and assist Tougas at every step of the search process.
“[Olivier] accompanied me through all of this. When I told him ‘now I’m taking a break’, ‘I’m finalizing this purchase, I’ll move onto the other one after’, everything went smoothly. People knew to call me back after such and such date. In short, I found it very, very, very effective.”
BMSCG was referred to 2-4 firms from helloDarwin’s curated network of pre-vetted service providers for each project. “They gave me presentations, and I had virtual meetings with them to see how they could meet my needs, and also in terms of costs,” says Tougas. She also had access to references for each potential service provider—and some of the references on the list were already familiar to her, which gave her even more confidence in her final decisions.
Partnering with Hestia Solution and ProdAqua to enrich lives and streamline delivery of care
For the management software project, the choice of vendor was a natural one: Hestia Solution, a management application for nonprofit organizations. "[Hestia Solution] really met all of our needs and it was relatively easy to understand. And then it touched on all the areas we needed information on, including notes to file. And the cost is still reasonable and within our budget."
The virtual reality project was, in Tougas’s words, a bit more “out-of-the box”. BMSCG ended up signing an agreement with ProdAqua, a Quebec-based audiovisual production company that specializes in aquatic imaging and video creation for multiple formats and technologies. In addition to underwater VR movies, BMSCG was also able to obtain all of the necessary VR equipment through ProdAqua, who assisted with installation and helped ensure everything was properly adjusted for BMSCG’s clients.
Now, “you come see us, and we’ll take you on an underwater exploration,” says Tougas. “When we have access to the [VR] glasses from the tablets, the Oculus and the tablet talk to each other. What we see on the tablet is what’s seen in the Oculus, that way we’re able to guide them and be in contact with them.”
The agreement with ProdAqua also includes delivery of an entirely new VR film in October, which is being filmed in Europe over the summer. And Hestia will soon install the new management software the BMSCG so desperately needs. When our COO, Francis, asked Tougas if she’ll turn to helloDarwin the next time they need to hire an external partner, this was her response: “We’ll think of you for sure, because it went really well! I need information because this is not my generation. I could be your grandmother. And I love working with young people! You’re eating it up!”
We’ll take that as a yes. ;)