Reopening care homes with mesh technology
How can providers gear up to re-establish family visits & welcome new residents safely? Stephen Cavanagh, long term care specialist at Ascom UK, sheds light on the immediate possibilities offered by technology to enforce real time social distancing
The rapid and targeted vaccination of vulnerable elderly people and front-line workers is a huge light at the end of the tunnel for our heavily bruised sector. So amid signs of optimism, how can providers gear up to re-establish family visits and welcome new residents safely? Stephen Cavanagh, long term care specialist at Ascom UK, sheds light on the immediate possibilities offered by technology to enforce real time social distancing
The last year is one everybody working in care will want to put behind them and for good reason. There are still immense staffing, financial and operational pressures from the pandemic – and the ongoing need to maintain social distancing is equally difficult to plan for and live with.
My message to providers though is one of hope. It is not just vaccines that are coming to the aid of the care sector. New ideas, skills, tools and particularly technology will help our sector to rise from the ashes more efficient, fit for purpose, people-focused and safer than ever before.
As the vaccination programme rolls out at pace, care homes must gear up for a new era of operation. The good news is we have the technology that allows homes to operate not only more safely – but more freely. Right now.
Reopening our sector to a new ‘normal’
Despite unprecedented financial pressure, every care home we speak to remains focused on resident wellbeing and outcomes. Even as we anticipate the dangers of the virus reducing with vaccination, the sector remains on high alert and will do for many months – even in the most optimistic scenario.
Adding to the worry is the unknown, unquantifiable damage caused not by the virus, but by lockdown. Already, evidence is building to demonstrate that months of being cooped up is leading to muscle weakness, raising fears about mobility, falls and injuries. Perhaps worse is evidence pointing to cognitive decline.1
Exacerbating this decline is lack of contact with loved ones on the outside, giving elderly residents a reason to stay positive, a reason to look forward and a reason to fight. In short, the glimpses of the outside world that elderly people got from visitors were central to their health, wellbeing and longevity.
Care homes are desperate to open their doors for precisely this reason. The difficulty is finding a way to do so safely and quickly. The answer lies in mesh technology that helps protect staff, residents and visitors with digital social distancing monitoring. Mesh provides an immediate framework for safe visits and admissions.
Mesh technology – the tool for immediate, safe reopening
Mesh technology supports social distancing digitally by mapping the live location of every single person on premises. Automating the process for added ease, care homes will be able to create two-metre virtual geozones around staff, visitors and residents and flag any breaches, allowing the rule to be simply enforced at all times. Combining this with best practice sanitation and PPE processes will free care homes to reopen their doors.
Mesh technology creates a communications platform by connecting the smart devices on site. Staff and visitor smartphones - as well as lanyards or wristbands worn by residents - all connect virtually to create a platform that does not rely on wi-fi or 4G/5G.
The process starts with visitors downloading the app. They then book a time slot to visit their loved one. Upon arrival, they are asked to complete a questionnaire that includes details on vaccine, symptom or antibody testing and carrier risk status. Managers can then plan and oversee every visit, which of course has the added benefit of improving site security.
As well as allowing family members and other visitors to be welcomed safely, the technology will support the arrival of new residents.
Social distancing for a safer future
The care sector will need to enforce social distancing for a long time to come. Not only has Covid underlined the vulnerability of people in long-term care, it has also shown us that many further layers of protection are needed to keep them safe when they live together under the same roof. For this reason, homes will never again be able to allow unscheduled, unvetted visits.
We all hope that Covid will be consigned to the history books, but this is far from guaranteed. It could become a seasonal concern, much like ‘flu, which has posed a great annual risk to the elderly for millennia. Indeed in 2017/18 over 26,000 UK deaths were attributed to ‘flu.2
Knowing what we know now, it is obvious to see that ‘flu, other common viruses, illnesses, diseases and longterm health conditions must be better contained and managed with improved processes and workflows.
Digital platforms will provide safeguards, automate the enforcement of social distancing and provide an audit checklist to validate entry to many sites. Technology such as Ascom Mesh will create a simple way for homes to keep health dangers from the outside world firmly locked out.
Person-centred care in the palm of your hand
Putting social distancing information in the hands of managers is the first step towards hosting visits, admitting new residents and reducing running pressures.
Once this technology is in place though, care homes can develop their technology infrastructure towards improving care outcomes. Apps for care planning can be loaded onto staff handsets to record interactions with residents.
Digital care planning and evidencing tools not only save huge amounts of valuable staff time but they also unlock vital insights about the health and wellbeing of residents, none of which would ever be possible with pen and paper.
Apps that know - in depth - the health, wellbeing and personal needs of each resident can ensure that their care plan is tailored precisely to their needs. That, combined with a digital audit trail, makes it more difficult for things to go wrong.
It is important to stress here that technology is not intended to replace staff but to support their work, unlock efficiencies and ultimately free them up to spend more time with residents – all with the result of better outcomes and monitoring.
Our own Ascom Unite platform integrates information from any combination of care admin and planning apps, turning real-time information into workflows that can be accepted by staff. If, for example, there is a spillage or a resident fall, an alert can be sent to the nearest available carer to come and help. Once the situation is resolved they simply confirm task completion on their handset.
A data guided vision for dignity and wellbeing in care
Digital records make everything from daily routines to hospital admissions quicker and safer. Perhaps more importantly, digital care planning makes it possible to spot when care is good and bad, giving operators vital insight that encourages continuous improvement.
Data can link information and spot trends that would otherwise be missed. That could be, for example, several residents on the top floor have all developed a cough.
It could be that an individual has refused food or drink for several days – and it could flag signals to speak to the GP about a change to a prescription. Such observations could prevent residents from needing hospital treatment.
Added to this is the opportunity to go on the front foot with wellbeing. With social distancing enforcement and planning tools at their disposal, carers can plan activities, organise socially distanced events and check residents are getting the exercise, nutrition and mental stimulation they need.
The quicker that care homes gain such capabilities, the quicker care outcomes and resident wellbeing will improve
Combining immediate impact with long-term viability
While the pandemic has been a tragedy for our sector, best practice from Covid has dramatically reduced levels of ‘flu and deep vein thrombosis. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. As we look ahead, it is clear the amassed learnings brought about by the pandemic will dramatically improve care outcomes.
The biggest gains will be offered by transitioning from paper to smartphones. The hours saved, the accuracy of records, the person-centred care plans, the ability to map social distancing and the potential of data to discover things before they become a problem are all truly exciting prospects.
So while technologies like Mesh provide a way for care operators to cautiously reopen to the world, going one step further and shifting to a digital care model will generate the data needed to improve in all areas of long term care.
The last year has been filled with sadness and tragedy but the future of care is exciting, viable and person-centred. If vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel, technology delivers the tools providers urgently need to get there quicker.
Stephen Cavanagh, Ascom UK
Telephone : +44 (0)7469 855 713
Email : [email protected] https://www.ascom.com/uk/
1. Age UK, Age UK research lays bare the drastic impact of the pandemic on our older population’s health and morale, October 2020 https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/ articles/2020/10/age-uk--research-intothe-effects-of-the-pandemic-on-the-olderpopulations-health/.
2. Healthy London Partnership, Influenza (Flu), https://www.healthylondon.org/resource/ accelerated-improvement-resources/ enhanced-health-in-care-homes/seasonalreadiness/winter-readiness/influenza-flu/.