Curtis Cummings was in high school when Radio Shack’s TRS-80 personal computer came out. Boasting up to 48 kilobytes of RAM and a 1.774 MHz processor, it foreshadowed tremendous changes across the economy—and in his career path.
Cummings’s journey started at Eastern Washington University, where he majored in computer science. “I took Pascal, FORTRAN, all the early languages, and I was just a horrible programmer,” he says, laughing. “But I still loved computers, so I transitioned into more of an IT [information technology] function.”
He spent his early years crisscrossing Idaho and eastern Washington building network infrastructure. Afterwards, Cummings spent almost two decades designing, building, and operating Microsoft’s global infrastructure and cybersecurity. Today, he serves as the senior vice president, chief information officer (CIO), and chief information security officer (CISO) at Prestige Care.
The Washington-based organization operates thirty-three skilled nursing facilities and forty-four assisted living facilities, which also house operations for twenty memory care facilities and nine independent living facilities across eight states.
Prestige emerged from Sarah Delamarter’s work caring for local seniors in Troutdale, Oregon, in 1946. Over the years, she acquired buildings and developed the organization that became Prestige Care in 1985. Today, two of the three owners are Delamarter’s grandchildren.
Cummings found his knowledge and experience could make a major positive impact in the sector. “If you can translate what caregivers are doing into technology speak and vice versa, you can provide the much-needed solutions they are looking for,” he says. “Because the senior living space is underinvested in, poor technical solutions are typical. Prestige Care leadership is committed to modernization and finding the best possible solutions, not just for Prestige Care but for the industry as a whole.”
As CIO and CISO at Prestige Care, his primary role is to translate and synthesize health, tech, and business needs. Since this sector is tightly regulated and small efficiencies are critical to the margins, Curtis Cummings often finds ways to drive value for the business, while eliminating pain points for care providers. Still, his work is to drive change—often a major challenge.
The main point, the CIO says, is to recognize that tech tools are not one-step solutions. “The challenge is addressing the ecosystem of care and properly translating what caregivers are asking for. If IT misunderstands caregiver requests or deliver the wrong solutions, technology becomes an inhibitor versus an enabler. People think technology will solve their problems, but technology is more of an efficiency tool for a functional workflow,” he explains. “If you’re applying a poor workflow to a new tool, the tool can make the workflow even worse.”
Done carelessly, tech “improvements” can push valuable workers out of the organization. Instead of easing their workload, employees feel unheard, grow frustrated, and depart. But through active listening, collaboration, and patience, Cummings and his department are seeing greater results, driving efficiency and innovation. He says, that the planning and design efforts of Bigleaf Networks, as well as their technology, were instrumental in our decision to move to cloud-based telecom.
“IT can have a huge impact on labor and retention, either positive or negative,” Curtis Cummings says. “The way the labor market is today, if people don’t understand your new workflow and why, they go to another company that does things the way they’re used to. Make your transitions logical and show people how it helps them take care of patients better.” Turnover has complicated the industry, but IT at Prestige Care looks to position the company as a destination company for caregivers.
The IT team also oversees the integration of health data to support care providers and patients. They’re actively creating automation and analytics for senior living health information and business metrics, with several custom applications available to Prestige caregivers already.
In senior living, for example, diabetes is a major problem and caused by intersecting factors—stress, lifestyle, and genetics. This makes it challenging to address individual cases and disentangle causes and effects. Eventually, when care providers can integrate that data and present treatment options in more specific context, individuals will have more power and better outcomes.
“Part of my job as an informaticist is getting medical information to patients in a way they understand, accept, and can act on,” Cummings says. “We, as an industry, continue to be challenged getting information to people in a meaningful way. As we improve this, it’s going to have a tremendous impact on care, and how we age and care for ourselves.”
Away from the company, the CIO devotes time and financial support to community projects in Kenya via Rotary International. Using his background in construction, he started building water wells, then sanitation infrastructure and schools. One year, after helping to build two thousand desks for twenty primary schools, he agreed to build fifty small ones for a kindergarten.
“We took these fifty small desks to deliver them, and there was no school—it was the kindergarten under a tree,” he recalls. They built a four-classroom building on-site, and by Cummings’s next visit the following year, the government had added another building. Together, they provided water, bathrooms, and a library, turning the fifty-student kindergarten under the tree into a four hundred-child primary school bearing Cummings’s name.
Now, Curtis Cummings is funding his first scholarship program. “I just agreed to that last summer,” he says, “because the first child from that kindergarten got accepted into university. And that’s pretty cool.”
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