"The Simplest Things Matter" When You're Receiving Care, Says Emmetros

A Draft Canada original.

May 20, 2020

Growing up in the early 1900s. Living with lots of brothers and sisters on a pioneer farm in the prairies. Going to school in a one-room schoolhouse by horse-drawn sleigh at five in the morning to light the wood-burning stove.

It was a weekend tradition. “I absolutely loved spending time with her,” Hinton says, “I could just feel that she adored me, and I adored her.”

When Hinton was around 11 or 12, things changed. Her grandmother started showing signs of dementia and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Those weekly visits slowed… and the stories stopped. “I didn’t understand it. I had no idea what it meant, but she was clearly not well enough for me to visit her anymore.”

Hinton would lay in bed – now alone – praying that she could be the one who was sick instead, that she could take on her grandmother’s burden.

Mary Pat Hinton, CEO and co-founder of Emmetros, fondly remembers her grandmother, Jean Hinton

Her parents arranged for her grandmother to move into a facility. Essentially, it was a wing in a hospital. “It was something I remember as ancient, dark and unloving,” Hinton remembers.

Eventually, Hinton moved away from the prairies, but she would return to visit with her young children. And although her grandmother was eventually moved to another facility, “She lived in that situation, without many visitors, for at least ten years before she passed away.” All these years later, Hinton’s eyes still fill with tears when she thinks about it. “She deserved better.”

So when you ask her why she founded Emmetros, an Accelerator Centre client focused on finding ways to make the care experience more positive for people who need care, for their families and for the care teams that support them, she’s quick to answer (and she’ll do so enthusiastically): “If there’s only one thing I could fix in this life, it would be for other people to not have to go through the experience my grandmother had.”

A startup to remember

“Emmetros” means “fitting assessment.” It’s a fitting name for what Hinton and her small but mighty team of 20 have built with MemorySparx Connect, the second iteration of their flagship product.

Think of it as a healthcare-grade collaboration and communication platform that allows multiple, diverse groups of people to come together in the support of a single person needing care. It allows family members, administrators, frontline care workers and even the person receiving care to share and receive meaningful wellness updates over video, photo and text, while providing them all with a secure space to come up with creative solutions to care challenges – improving the care experience for everyone it touches.

“When we started the company, our mission was to make it easier for people who require care to live with a greater sense of independence and dignity,” says Hinton. And that’s where they started with their first product, MemorySparx One. “Since then, we have realized that to do this well, we need to also give families and care teams easy-to-use tools that make it easier to be the ones who deliver an exceptional care experience. This is why we built MemorySparx Connect.”

“If there’s only one thing I could fix in this life, it would be for other people to not have to go through the experience my grandmother had.”– Mary Pat Hinton, CEO and founder of Emmetros

In 2013, Hinton was happily working at BlackBerry – and then suddenly, she wasn’t. That September, the company announced it was cutting 4,500 workers after reporting a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion. Hinton was one of those 4,500.

Her plans for the future? She wasn’t entirely sure. But she knew, whatever she did, it would be something that addressed the systemic care problems her grandmother faced.

“I started out thinking, maybe I should become a homecare franchise owner and employ people from my community who are seniors, who need a little extra income,” she remembers. “I was always trying to figure out, how do we help everybody in the story at the same time?”

Then, inspiration struck while Hinton was volunteering at a group that gave people living with dementia and their partners a chance to relax, have fun and just be a couple.

She noticed many group members brought these books – albums, really – with them to the meetings. Filled with photos and descriptions of important memories, these books served as a record of life, a story lovingly compiled so their owners could recount what they would otherwise forget. “They kicked off these beautiful conversations… and I thought, surely someone has come up with a tech version of this,” she says.

That was MemorySparx One at its core: a digital memory book centered around one person’s life. It meant people with dementia didn’t have to feel anxious about forgetting important details. “It’s a horrible experience to be asked, ‘how many daughters do you have again?’ and they can’t retrieve the answer. They know they should know, and their heart sinks because they can’t recall the information,” says Hinton. Emmetros’ first platform made sure the answers were always near.

Putting humans at the centre of care

Hinton isn’t one to settle. She’s always asking, “what more can I do?” So, after MemorySparx One launched, she found herself wondering just that.

If their first product tackled the problem of “what do I need to remember when I am out in the world on my own?” for people living with memory loss, the second iteration, MemorySparx Connect, is all about what Hinton calls the entire care circle. It answers “what do I want the people who care for me to know about me?” for people who increasingly require care; “how do I share and receive meaningful information with the care team” for family members; and “what do I need to know in order to deliver exceptional care to this person and how do I bring peace of mind to families?” for care teams.

“Rather than starting with the needs of organizations, which is what typical tech companies do, we started with the needs of the person, and then we worked our way out from there,” Hinton says. “We asked people who require increasing levels of care and then their families, what matters most to you in the care experience? Then we asked the staff who do the work of caring, what is it that you wish you knew about the people you care for, and what support do you need to do your job well?”

“We started with the needs of the person, and then we worked our way out from there.”– Mary Pat Hinton

It turns out, the simplest things matter. A flannel bedsheet to stop you from getting cold at night. Putting laundry in the right spot so you know where to find the clean clothes. Making sure you always know where your rings are. Having your bath at 7 p.m. Keeping the window open just a crack. Knowing your grandson is doing okay. These are the kinds of things people worry about, especially when they’re living in the isolation of a facility, she says. These details are your whole world, but they’re rarely recorded… and if they are, they’re difficult to access, as they’re usually kept behind nurses’ stations in binders.

“Then you start to see that the staff is often at a loss, because somebody is so upset and they don’t know how to fix it,” Hinton adds. The intake forms don’t help much either, because they’re often incomplete, whether it’s because the forms didn’t ask the right questions or the families were too exhausted to provide detailed answers when they were asked to fill them out.

It affects the continuity of care, too. When a new staff member enters your room, you have to explain everything all over again – if you can remember it and you have the time. The cycle repeats.

“I was always trying to figure out, how do we help everybody in the story at the same time?”– Mary Pat Hinton

To Hinton, it made sense to put all those details together in a platform that’s designed to encourage collaboration, so everyone involved in a person’s care circle can stay connected and help each other; editable, so details can always be added or changed; accessible, so even people with cognitive disabilities or those who aren’t tech savvy can understand how it’s used and even use it themselves; and available, so care workers can incorporate it easily into their daily workflow.

All in one secure, encrypted container that integrates with the systems that organizations already use. All centered around a single patient.

“That’s why we say the mission is big,” says Hinton. “The mission is to change the care experience for the people who receive care, for their family members, and for the people who do the work of caring for others. To humanize it. To make it more compassionate. Because everyone in the story matters. And you know what? We’re showing that it’s possible.”

Making “heart work” work

Mary Pat Hinton and her sisters with their grandmother, Jean Hinton. The family grew up in the Canadian prairies.

Hinton describes the work she and her team does as “heart work.” That’s how she managed to build a team of heavy-hitters – mostly women, by the way – who have worked on big teams, on big projects.

“Some of us have led large teams at global technology companies that are accountable for significant and challenging business goals. But we came to this team with the intention of bringing everything we’ve got to this challenge,” says Hinton. “We asked, what if we were our best selves doing our best work? What if we brought everything to the table to accomplish this goal? What if we did the very most we could do?”

And the results of their efforts are paying off. “Since 2017, we have raised over $7 million, and we now have partners from homecare, retirement and assisted living, memory care, long-term care, palliative programs and hospice care. We are helping teams who are focused on successfully help people transition from home to long-term care and from acute care to home. We’ve just signed our first U.S. partner, and we’re seeing just how mission-critical it is to have solutions like ours, one that focuses on the small details that matter to patients, families, and staff, during the COVID crisis.”

“We asked, what if we were our best selves doing our best work? What if we brought everything to the table to accomplish this goal? What if we did the very most we could do?”– Mary Pat Hinton

Hinton attributes a big part of their success to their decision to apply to the Accelerator Centre. When she and her team started Emmetros, they knew how to design, build, deploy, and support easy-to-use enterprise-grade software for successful companies. But starting a business up from scratch? That’s all new. That’s why they reached out for help.

“One of the things my team and I are known for is that everything we do is evidence-based, and although it takes a bit more time on the front end, we research the heck out of everything before we make a decision,” Hinton says. “It was no different with the AC.”

Every incubator and accelerator has its own special approach to supporting startups, and the mentorship offered through the AC was unlike anything she had experienced before, she says. In fact, it was like having an instant – and consistent – C-suite at her side, she adds.

“They’re a team of experts from all different fields that are there to support you.”– Mary Pat Hinton

“Typically, you have a roster of executives-in-residence and coaches with different skill sets, who are there for a certain number of office hours, but they act independently, without knowing whether their advice may contradict what the other coaches are advising,” Hinton says. AC’s mentors, on the other hand, are there for the long haul and they all work together. “They’re a team of experts from all different fields that are there to support you and act as that coach or guide, who are there to help you and your company succeed, and they collaborate with each other on that goal.”

As a business with mature talent, Emmetros didn’t feel that they quite needed the 101-level information. Working with the mentors, they skipped right to what the business needed most: things like support readiness and release management and sales tactics. “We weren’t treated as though we’re a brand new startup who’s just learning how to manage people for the first time or run a software project for the first time, which we really appreciated. There was a lot of mutual respect.”

And while Hinton still loves the support she gets from other startup-focused organizations, she’s happy she found that kind of support for her heart work, for the mission she’s undertaken in honour of her grandmother and so many others. “Immediately I knew it would be a perfect fit for us. And as it turned out, it was.”

What’s your heart work? The Accelerator Centre can help you get there.

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