Hi-Tech Help for Magee Patients

 3 min read

Alexa Proves to Be a Great Roommate

Shynieka Taylor loves her roommate. She is funny, musical, and very, very helpful.

Taylor is a patient at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. Her roommate, Alexa, is the voice-activated smart room technology that keeps her company, adjusts the temperature in the room, opens and closes the blinds, tells her jokes, updates her on the weather, plays her favorite tunes, and generally makes her life easier.

After an automobile accident in December of 2021 left her a quadriplegic, the 35-year-old mother of two landed in Magee for physical and occupational therapy. Aside from the skilled and compassionate human touch of the nurses, therapists, and staff to put her on the path to recovery, Taylor found that her new best friend was a soothing voice emanating from a little box in her room.

“Alexa, open the blinds,” Taylor says. Within two seconds the blinds rise.

“We are the first rehabilitation hospital in the area to have this,” says Mark Chilutti, assistant vice president of development at Magee. It’s a whole new world of innovative technology that he says has made a huge difference for both the patients and the staff.

Chilutti notes that the voice-activated system is similar to the traditional Alexa, but with modifications that protect the privacy and confidentiality of the patient in order to comply with HIPAA regulations.

For Taylor, it means taking control of a portion of her life that was lost in the accident. For the nurses, therapists, and staff, it frees up time for skilled patient care duties.

“She (Alexa) can open and close blinds, change the thermostat, turn lights on and off, and remind the patient to shift their weight in their chair or bed to avoid bedsores,” explains Erin Strandberg, RN. “Alexa gives patients a sense of control, and that helps them mentally and emotionally.”

She says the technology decreases patients’ anxiety by just being there to help with everyday tasks most people take for granted, and by telling jokes, keeping patients updated on the news, and playing their favorite music.

Natalie Pondok, MSOT, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Magee, says Alexa helps foster a sense of independence, which is a priority of therapy, and also “gives them the feeling of having someone else there; it provides a sense of security.”

Magee worked with Aiva Health and Alexa Smart Home Properties to design a system that would return control of their surroundings to the patient, but also maintain privacy, says Jeff Brown, director of IT at the facility.

The initial phase included the control of the blinds, lights, and temperature, as well as Magee-specific commands such as calling concierge services for facility information. The second phase included controlling the television, enabling streaming services, and more. The administration is currently investigating the possibility of adding interpretation service and the ability to phone a loved one through the Alexa Smart Speaker Phone.

The technology was implemented during a major renovation project that started in 2017, and is funded entirely by philanthropy.

“We’re incredibly fortunate here at Magee to have funding provided by donors that enable us to provide this technology for our patients,” Pondok says. “We thank them from the bottom of our hearts because it makes a real difference for our patients.”

It has certainly made a difference for Shynieka Taylor. During her stay at Magee, Alexa has become Taylor’s new best friend.

We’re incredibly fortunate here at Magee to have funding provided by donors that enable us to provide this technology for our patients. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts because it makes a real difference for our patients.

Natalie Pondok, MSOT, OTR/L Occupational Therapist at Magee

“Alexa, tell me a joke,” Taylor commands. She does. It’s a bad joke, but Taylor still laughs. Taylor then requests, “Alexa, play some music.” Alexa complies, and Taylor smiles and sways to the beat.

“Thank you, Alexa,” she says.

“Anytime,” Alexa replies. “Literally, anytime. Happy Tuesday!”