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Technology as a Means to Greater Independence
Social care services are notoriously people-heavy. To deliver support to vulnerable people takes a number of competent and knowledgeable staff. Although wages in the sector are relatively low, the on-costs with pension schemes, additional benefits and cover for sickness, maternity and other leave makes human resources the costliest part of our business.
We know that around 75 per cent of our budget goes to recruiting, training and retaining the workforce and this will always influence the cost of our services. Is there another option that keeps people safe AND keeps costs down?
This week I was taken aback by a blog post on how a project is using assistive technology in social care to provide greater independence to people with disabilities and reduce the physical presence of care staff in their lives.
Using technology like door alarm sensors, panic buttons, personal call pendants and video surveillance, people with learning disability can be alone in their home knowing that help is only a step away. Flood and heat sensors can detect where there is a risk, enuresis sensors can alert as to when personal care is needed overnight, and video surveillance can warn staff of wandering or at risk people.
Not so modern
Some years ago, I installed a system of sensors to the room of a young man who would self-injure if he was not attended to the moment he woke in the morning. Dan would wake, sit up in his bed, and call out. If not immediately responded to by care staff, Dan would commence to bang his arms and head on the walls.
The point of the sensor was to activate a bell when Dan sat up in bed, so that staff could quickly attend and reduce the damage of the wall-banging. However, a happy by-product of the sensor being installed was that Dan, who was non-verbal, learned that sitting up would activate the call bell, which in turn would summon help.
Opening doors to communication
Through this means, we discovered that Dan was actually asking to get up to the toilet and so we had inadvertently created a means for Dan to better communicate this need. Moving on from this success, we developed a number of motion-activated call systems to assist Dan and others to communicate. At the time this was not designed to reduce staff input, but looking back, it meant that Dan could use a non-violent means of asking for help, which meant staff could be more at arms-length.
The TORCH project, described in the piece I was reading, has identified very significant staff cost savings in the schemes it is working with. Moreover, the outcome for service users has been more independence, control and privacy.
Scary thought, replacing direct staff support with remote devices. But before you dismiss it as science fiction, read the reports and blogs yourself, and consider how some of this technology might be helpful to improve independence for people you support.