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UWT student project benefits JBLM Fisher House

Altruistic Technologies creating a new user-friendly website to help families

When a family is dealing with a medical crisis, the last thing they want to think about is paperwork. But for military families traveling to Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and hoping to stay at the nearby Fisher House, paperwork – sometimes lots of it – is required.

For families to be approved to stay in the home, they must first submit information that needs to be verified by Fisher House staff. Currently, patients can access the required forms online from the Fisher House website, but the forms must be printed, filled out and returned via fax or scanned and sent via e-mail. However, families are often traveling and don’t always have access to the technology they need to return the forms quickly.

Although the actual approval process can be completed in a few minutes, it can’t be done until all the information is submitted and verified by Fisher House staff. This could take hours. And for a family in the throes of a very difficult time in their lives, it is just one more thing to worry about.

So when Branden Hiatt, a retired sergeant first class and information technology student at the University of Washington, Tacoma, was assigned a project in his spring quarter “Managing Technical Teams” class to contribute to a nonprofit organization using technology, he immediately thought about the Fisher House.

“It automatically popped into my head,” he said. “I knew about it from the (Combined Federal Campaign). It’s a very worthwhile organization.”

For the assignment, he and five classmates (Chi Sennhotz [also an Army veteran[; Kyle Veldhuizen; Sung Lee; Saurabh Singh and Xiaoju Bing) created a team they dubbed “Altruistic Technologies.” They met with JBLM Fisher House Manager Jodi Land to determine what she needed, and later presented their ideas not only about how they wanted to create a new user-friendly website, but also create a new back-end program that would streamline the Fisher House referral system.

“It was very apparent that they put a lot of time and energy into it,” Land said.

The database will be tailored specifically for the JBLM Fisher House, and when complete in October, will allow prospective guests to complete all of the required information online.

“It will absolutely help the families,” said Land. “They won’t have to rely on a fax and can even do it from a smart phone while sitting in an airport or as a passenger while driving. It really will make the process so much cleaner and more efficient.”

For the Fisher House staff, the new referral process will be “a huge savings of time,” she added. “We won’t have to wait for people to call us back or wait for documents to be faxed over.”

All of the members on the UWT team were passionate about the project.

“For any project, you have to believe in what you do and stand behind it from the get go,” Hiatt said.”Each and every one of us wholeheartedly believes in this project.”

For many of the team members, it was the first time working on a project of this scope – and most had not even heard of the Fisher House. “It was really a learning experience,” said Xiaouju.

“Being part of this project has been more than just an academic achievement,” said Veldhuizen. “It’s being able to make a contribution to the community utilizing technology. Information Technology is my passion, and it is exciting to be able to apply my knowledge and skills toward an organization that is in need of assistance, especially since I feel that what 9Fisher House) is doing is so important.”

“They were an outstanding team,” said the class instructor, Andrew Fry, assistant director of industry partners/lecturer at the UWT Institute of Technology. “They worked well together and gave an excellent presentation.”

Hiatt and Sennhotz will continue to work on the project as interns at Fisher House during the summer.

“I’m so happy that we chose Fisher House,” said Sennhotz. “It was a big challenge, and for me the technology was new, but it’s really meaningful to do something for JBLM.”

Fisher House provides a “home away from home” for ill and injured service members at no cost to them. The JBLM home is one of 64 Fisher Houses around the world. For more information, visit www.fisherhouse-jblm.org.