Multi-site nursing management company deploys HIPAA-compliant wireless network
Meraki dashboard makes centralized management easy, saves money and time
Visiting doctors and guests have secure wireless access, separate from the LAN
When Ed Sharp joined Century Care Management two years ago, one of the first things he wanted to address was wireless internet access. “We needed to join the 21st century,” he said. “We finally got serious about it this year.”
Century Care Management, a skilled nursing management company based in Cary, North Carolina, manages eight nursing homes across North Carolina. These facilities offer both short-term and long-term care and rehabilitation, with the smallest facility containing 80 beds and the largest featuring 140. Century Care employs over 400 clinical and 15 corporate staff members.
Century Care originally had one consumer-grade wireless access point (AP) at each facility and at headquarters, but these APs had limited range and could only be used by Century Care’s internal staff. “It was very much a stopgap measure,” said Sharp, Director of Support Services.
Meanwhile, multiple constituents desired internet access. “The visiting doctors brought in laptops when seeing residents, and they wanted to use the laptop-based clinical software from their hospitals,” Sharp explained. “Our residents wanted to connect to the outside world using wireless. And our staff couldn’t use their laptops everywhere in the building—they had to be near the access point.” Visiting pharmacists and state inspectors wanted access as well. “Everybody was feeling the pain. We knew we needed to take a long-term strategic look at how we provide wireless services in our company,” Sharp said.
The wired network infrastructure was already in place. Each of Century Care’s eight nursing home facilities has a business-class ISP link for public and private traffic. The connection to headquarters runs through a site-to-site VPN network (a hub-and-spoke architecture). Legacy routing and switching infrastructure manages traffic at each location.
To smooth the transition to network-wide wireless, Century Care worked with value-added reseller Eproach to find a cost-effective, easy to manage solution. “We’re a very lean and mean company,” Sharp said. “We don’t have a lot of technology resources to provide support or care and feeding for any solution we put in, so whatever we did, we knew it had to be easy to take care of long term.”
In addition, Sharp knew he needed to be able to separate public versus private traffic in order to maintain the security of corporate and patient data. “HIPAA compliance was tantamount to any consideration we had,” he said.
After evaluating wireless solutions from Meru and Meraki, Sharp said it was Meraki’s cloud-based model with the dashboard that swayed him. “I was attracted to the idea that I don’t need to host anything or have any servers here,” he said. “Instead, I can access everything from one simple, web-based dashboard, and that makes for a very clean, easy-to-manage solution.”
Century Care deployed 75 Meraki MR14 dual-radio 802.11n APs across its eight nursing home facilities and its headquarters. Eproach installed the APs using a phased approach, focusing on one location for a day or two each week. “It was pretty quick,’ Sharp said. “The implementation was totally painless from our perspective.”
He still remembers when the first set of APs came online. “Eproach called when the first site was done and gave me the username and password,” he said. “I jumped into the dashboard and bang, I could see the site and the APs. The dashboard was so intuitive and easy to use, I started using the features and making changes to the environment right away.”
The dashboard was so intuitive and easy to use, I started using the features and making changes to the environment right away.Ed Sharp, Director of Support Services
It was key for Century Care staffers to be able to travel between sites, power on their laptops, and automatically authenticate to each network seamlessly. A WPA2 encrypted SSID, available at each site, allowed each staffer to authenticate with a single shared key. As a result, employees have instant, secure, and HIPAA-compliant access back to headquarters from any one of the eight sites they visit. All of the monitoring data from each site is presented to Sharp in a single view in the Meraki dashboard.
Sharp also created a unique public-access SSID for each facility so that guests would recognize their facility’s name when selecting a network. Visiting caregivers, residents, and guests click through a Meraki-hosted splash page to access these public networks, while Meraki’s built-in firewall keeps guest traffic separated from Century Care’s corporate network. Unlike employee traffic, which travels back to headquarters over a VPN tunnel, guest traffic is configured to travel directly to its destination over the internet, minimizing traffic over the VPN tunnel to business-critical data only.
So far, Sharp said, both caregivers and residents have been happy with the new wireless. Some residents have even bought laptops to take advantage of it.
As for Sharp, he reported that the Meraki implementation gives him confidence. ‘We need solid wireless infrastructure to support the new clinical software we expect to install next year, and we believe Meraki can do that for us,’ he said. ‘We’ve had no downtime at all. There have been no surprises except good surprises, like performance enhancements. Everything we’ve seen has been positive. I would unequivocally recommend this product.’
The dashboard was so intuitive and easy to use, I started using the features and making changes to the environment right away.