Sunnycrest Manor – Dubuque County

Boosting resident-centered care with Aruba mobile-first network slashes Wi-Fi help desk calls by 95%

USE CASE: Boost the health, safety and well-being of long-term care residents by mobilizing staff and resident experiences with modern, unified, reliable and future-proof wireless and wired network infrastructure while eliminating dozens of hours of troubleshooting time.


Although the surrounding community was committed to providing a safe, high-quality long-term care residence for income-eligible senior citizens and persons with intellectual disabilities, the existing infrastructure at Sunnycrest Manor was too antiquated for the task.

“As our taxpayers expect Sunnycrest to furnish exceptional care, while maintaining financial sustainability, we faced multiple challenges,” explains Nathan Gilmore, IT Superintendent Dubuque County, Iowa, which owns and operates the facility. “Although it started with automating healthcare recordkeeping, we uncovered other challenges along the way.”

Wireless + Wired = Better Together

We moved from virtually no mobility to Wi-Fi in every corner of a historic stone-walled building, including the resident rooms, common areas, stairwells, therapy areas, cafeteria, administrative offices and outdoor green spaces. The positive impact on resident quality of life cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Nathan Gilmore, IT Superintendent for Dubuque County, Iowa

Taking a holistic view, Gilmore’s team realized an infrastructure update at Sunnycrest could double as a proof of concept for an expected system-wide refresh. “Many of our county buildings, including Sunnycrest, are historic structures with some dating back to the late 1800’s,” Gilmore says. “Thick stone walls and other architectural components create perennial hurdles for supplying wireless and wired networking throughout our enterprise.”

Working closely with his trusted local partner, Managed Solutions Group, Gilmore included Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, in the solution evaluations. “Having a single infrastructure partner, with an integrated wireless and wired product line, was very attractive for gaining efficiencies to support our lean IT staff of five.”

Conquering Evolving Challenges

At the outset, the primary mandate was mobilizing the cloud-based electronic medical record (EMR) solution at 100-employee Sunnycrest. “Prior to my arrival, the staff was provided with mobile carts,” says Gilmore. “But the existing Wi-Fi was present only in the cafeteria and foyer, rendering the carts useless in resident care areas. This created paper-based records and re-keying.”

During the process of establishing an implementation plan, Gilmore discovered Sunnycrest’s portable telephony system was chronically unreliable. “This led to including VoWiFi in our deployment, requiring our infrastructure to be voice-grade,” he says.

Hospitality solution saves the day

Sunnycrest’s building architecture also negated a hallway-based Wi-Fi deployment. The solution came in combining standard 802.11ac indoor and outdoor access points (APs), in the hallways and common areas, with compact hospitality APs in each resident’s private quarters.

“At the time, the 205H was Aruba’s most advanced hospitality option,” says Gilmore. “These innovative units include three Gigabit Ethernet ports, one supplying PoE [Power over Ethernet], which we can leverage to plug in other IP devices without additional cabling back to the switches.”

“This type of future-proofing will save considerably on subsequent wiring costs,” he adds. “It also minimizes the number of required switch ports in our wiring closets, with associated reductions in power and cooling requirements.”

Aruba switches provide reliability, flexibility and scalability

On the wired side, modularity and flexibility led to the adoption of the 5412R at Sunnycrest’s core with 2920 switches for the edge. “We own multiple modules for the 5400R switches,” says Gilmore. “The flexibility of the modular approach provides us with the capabilities we need today and options to meet future needs, such as upgrading to 40Gbps when our local provider finishes its fiber backbone deployment.”

“For the 2920, we use a stacked configuration with redundant power supplies and additional PoE,” Gilmore says. “It’s a solid solution that’s worked beautifully and quietly, with less heat and power consumption.”

According to Gilmore, the switching experience is the direct opposite of the previous vendor’s products. “In one case, we were down for 20 hours when a licensing error on a single switch ‘delicensed’ our entire network,” he says. “Beyond the resiliency of Aruba products, having no software licensing and a lifetime warranty is a big plus.”

Delivering Improved Resident Experiences

Today, the business and operational rewards from the new wireless and wired network are extensive. “Before, our computer systems were unresponsive and unreliable,” says Cris Kirsch, BSN, NHA, who serves as Sunnycrest Administrator. “Now, they’re fast and reliable. In addition to better patient care, this significantly improves staff morale.”

“For example, it takes us a third of the time to complete mandatory healthcare recordkeeping because we use our EMR and mobile carts,” Kirsch continues. “Additionally, our EMR guides caregiving to ensure completion of all relevant tasks, which reduces the risk of human error.”

Stable communications via VoWiFi phones are also a joy. “Now, we communicate seamlessly,” say Kirsch. “It’s like night and day from before.”

Securing vulnerable populations

The new infrastructure also enabled beefing up Sunnycrest’s physical security with a new camera system. “The building’s architecture impacted this deployment as well,” says Gilmore. “We needed more cameras than would be typical for a facility of its size. Here, again, our new infrastructure ensured we could scale the camera system to meet our needs.”

With visualization into every aspect of resident care, Sunnycrest staff has new insights on keeping quality high. “Viewing footage permits us to make fast, continuous improvements to care in a way that was impossible when relying on written notes or anecdotal recollection,” says Kirsch. “Plus, incident investigations occur more rapidly.”

Staff safety is also enhanced. “Our 24/7 care areas are located on the second and third floor,” explains Kirsch. However, the front entrance to the building is on the first floor. With the cameras, our evening and overnight staff can see who is at the door with a glance.”

Help desk calls reduced by 95%

From an IT perspective, the network is performing beyond expectations. “The infrastructure worked flawlessly from day one,” says Gilmore. “In the past, one of us would spend at least a half a day, three times a week, traveling to the facility to troubleshoot infrastructure. Since deployment, that’s been zero.”

What’s more, IT no longer fields challenging Wi-Fi help desk calls. “Previously, Wi-Fi calls required expert diplomacy because people didn’t understand why they could get Wi-Fi in the cafeteria but not anywhere else,” Gilmore says. “Today, calls related to Wi-Fi are down by 95 percent.”

Using ClearPass for Secure Access & More

Moving forward, the new infrastructure is enabling other upgrades. “This includes deploying Aruba’s ClearPass to unify user and policy authentication for both wireless and wired access,” Gilmore says. “In addition to securing our network now, it enables us to incorporate other innovations, like IoT, later.”

“The integration of ClearPass and Aruba mobility controllers with Aruba’s wired switches is a significant benefit to our organization,” he adds. “We’re excited about deploying the technology.

Connecting Residents to Family and Community

Most importantly, resident experiences are significantly enhanced. “The average age of our population is about 60, which is much younger than most similar facilities,” Kirsch says. “Using our new Wi-Fi, residents can Skype with family rather than use the telephone. It’s a dramatically richer interaction when you can see your grandchildren growing up.”

“Facebook is another favored resident app,” she continues. “This means Wi-Fi is enabling our people to be more connected to their communities. The interactivity benefits to a person’s quality of life cannot be measured in dollars and cents.”