Technologically Caring

Shutterstock/ 13_Phunkod
Shutterstock/ 13_Phunkod

Whether in ASSISTED-LIVING facilities or at home, seniors are at greater risk of health incidents and falls than any other population segment. To help protect elders living in their care, assisted-living facilities have been deploying low-voltage and wireless technology to include wander-management systems, video surveillance, access control, and fall alert and prevention. While technology and software companies offer a variety of systems, many facility managers are looking for robust networks with integrated systems.

Providing for the safety and well-being of residents of assisted-living and related facilities is a growing challenge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that senior citizens are treated in the emergency room for fall-related injuries every 11 seconds.

However, according to the Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies U.S. healthcare organizations and programs, there is a correlation between safety interventions and improved outcomes for patients and residents. Studies show that interventions are increasingly technology-based.

In addition to falls, security—and ensuring those with memory problems are safe—is a major concern, said Mandy Hampton, chief operating officer at Ridge Senior Living, a private company that operates several senior living communities across Utah and Colorado. One of the frequent problems is elopement risk for memory support and assisted-living residents.

“It’s very common for people in assisted living to have some level of memory loss,” Hampton said. That means keeping track of where they are—and how they are—is critical for healthcare providers and the patients’ families and loved ones.

“There are also issues of perception when it comes to care being received by residents,” Hampton said. “Time can be fuzzy, healthcare visits can be forgotten, or in fact, the resident may need more services than he or she is getting.”

She added that some technologies can verify information about who is caring for residents and when and how often, although deployments of such systems are limited.

Adoption of technology in senior care facilities has lagged behind that of other healthcare sectors.

“It wasn’t so long ago that retirement homes used hard lock keys, even as hotels had transitioned to wireless entry cards. And many such centers still track the visitors with a book at the front desk. But both old-school solutions fall short of today’s needs,” Hampton said.

Frail hands often struggle with inserting and turning physical keys. That is only compounded if the person uses a walker or cane. Ridge Senior Living, along with many other centers, has transitioned to a keyless entry.

Tracking visitors creates an opportunity for senior communities to provide a new level of care to its residents. Automated systems could detect physician and visitor badges to track who has arrived and where they are in the facility. That data is valuable both historically and in real time. For instance, if management needs to speak with a physician, they can be alerted that they have arrived. Also, families can a view a record to see who visited their loved one, and when.

Another useful upgrade is touchscreens. Atlanta-based technology company Accushield offers the Touchscreen Visitor Sign-in that streamlines the visitor-admitting process.

Nurse call systems have improved as well, enabling staff to trigger and view requests for assistance on handheld devices.

Notification is crucial

In the event of an emergency, communitywide notification is essential.

“That’s mission-critical, not only to alert staff and residents on-site but residents’ family members as well,” Hampton said.

Beyond safety, there are some systems designed simply to make life more livable. For instance, Ridge Senior Living has installed digital monitors at the entrance to each resident’s unit that can display meaningful photos. Family members can upload pictures to the cloud-based system that are shown on a monitor outside of the apartment.

As tech companies devise new tools, the greatest challenge is that they work together.

“It’s really important that systems integrate,” Hampton said. “To be licensed, you need a nurse call system, but you don’t want it to be a standalone.”

At a minimum, it should integrate with a fire alarm system. That way, staff can receive notifications on smartphones to know what is going on.

A senior facility could have 10 or 15 different software systems in place running an entire operation.

“I look at software vendors on a weekly basis,” Hampton said, adding that the lack of integration is a constant theme.

“I think we’re in an industry that’s trying to push the boundaries,” she said.

In preparation for more powerful, integrated systems, facilities are thinking in terms of the backbone.

ECs can help these customers be forward-thinking during the construction.

“It’s easier to put it all in at the front end,” Hampton said. “I do think those who are more progressive are raising the bar, and it’s going to be an expectation.”

Ultimately, she said, care facilities want to “ensure that what those residents are deserving and paying for are being received.”

Traditional facilities management functions, such as roof maintenance, leak monitoring and light management, are also poised to benefit from integration, said Moulay Elalamy, vice president of IT for senior assisted living and healthcare company Benchmark Senior Living, Waltham, Mass., which manages senior living communities across Massachusetts.

For instance, security requires planning around the camera installation—where and what a system can capture and how users can know who enters and exits the buildings. However, on the facilities management front, concerns usually revolve around utilities’ consumption and maintenance support management, he said.

“The facilities manager needs tools to be more proactive and move away from the typical ticketing and servicing system, and from today’s passive preventative- maintenance programs,” Elalamy said.

Technology will be at the center of facilities management and security, tomorrow and beyond, he said. For example, smart devices and artificial intelligence (AI) may completely disrupt the facilities management landscape.

“These technologies are particularly powerful the larger a company is, as streamlined processes and standardized smart preventative maintenance allow for better economies of scale and larger savings over time,” Elalamy said.

Because technology is evolving so fast and AI has not reached widespread adoption at the facilities level, there are questions about the needed skillset to deploy and support at the community level.

Elalamy said it’s unclear what AI solutions can concretely accomplish. That’s mostly because many try to emulate existing processes with new technology—for an incremental gain—instead of rethinking processes altogether and augmenting or creating new services.

He pointed out that the technology comes more from a residential focus and not all required “business-grade” functionality has been thought through.

“It needs to be packaged to a level that it makes the business case for increased investment in the space,” Elalamy said.

IT systems still have a way to go to fully integrate between facilities management space and other in-house departments; it may not be as developed as some think.

“I can see the proactive and preventative management aspects being greatly impacted by the predictive modeling capabilities offered by AI combined with smart devices,” Elalamy said.

This extends to smart cameras with built- in facial and object/situation recognition.

For care centers, and the electrical contractors that install the technology, the focus is going to be on making sure the facility has a big enough backbone to manage all these systems.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.