In-Home Telecare Empowers Elderly

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Story Updated: Feb 10, 2011

In a small rural community near the Georgia coast, as in many rural areas, finding people to provide in-home respite care is a struggle. Driving distances are lengthy, availability of work is scarce. But one family living there decided to take a chance on an unlikely solution to the challenges they were facing.

Lavinia Fitzgerald had always taken care of herself and those around her, but that changed more than 30 years ago when she sustained a brain injury in an accident. Since then, her daughter, Colleen Henry, has been her primary caregiver. But with a father who is now aging, and her sister Peggy more than 75 miles away, the burdens of providing care and keeping an eye on both parents are more than Colleen can handle.

“I’m at the house every day to tend to Mama’s personal needs and prepare meals, and Peggy keeps the house clean. At his age, Daddy’s just not able to help as much. We were approached by our Community Care provider Coastal Home Care last year, and they told us about using computer technology to help keep an eye on Mama. We thought we should give it a try,” said Colleen.

The family uses the Web-based telecare system offered by Rest Assured® , which combines wireless technology, a secure broadband Internet connection and state-of-the-art support. In addition, there are real, live people—professional caregivers—on watch and trained in each individual’s unique needs. The caregivers and the people receiving care can see and hear each other. The system is the first of its kind to offer round-the-clock, in-home support customized to individual needs.

Peace of mind through technology

“Rest Assured keeps Mama safe when no one else is there, and we’re able to also ‘visit’ with her using the two-way audio and video that the system offers,” said Colleen. “They’ve done everything they said they would, except for telling me how our parents’ lives — and ours — would change. This has given them a new lease on life and they’ve developed real friendships with the telecaregivers. Mama and Daddy sit and talk to them like old friends. I’ve seen the relief on Daddy’s face because he knows someone is watching out for them at all times.”

Cameras, alarms and two-way speakers are placed strategically in a home’s common areas and electronic sensors in bathrooms and bedrooms. The installation is designed to give families confidence that their loved ones are watched appropriately in a way that does not invade their privacy.

“Caregivers communicate face-to-face with individuals they serve through a touch screen computer monitor,” said Dustin Wright, the company’s general manager. “The technology is almost invisible to people in the home. Our mission is to help people live as independently as possible, while providing careful, unobtrusive support.”

Each caregiver has at least two years of direct care experience before completing 100 hours of training through the College of Direct Support to understand the care protocols of the people they support. Staff members work directly with clients and their families to develop customized care plans that can be scaled to fit any situation or budget.

The future

The state of Indiana is currently offering Rest Assured as an option to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and has applied to CMS to have it approved as a Medicaid waiver program. The head of The Arc of Indiana, an advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities, is an outspoken proponent of the telecare model.

“In my 35 years of working with families, it’s one of the most exciting developments out there of beginning to promote independence, while still providing security and safety in a non-intrusive way,” said John Dickerson, Indiana ARC executive director.

The shrinking workforce and expanding population of the elderly and those with disabilities make finding effective, efficient waiver models an imperative.

ResCare government relations Senior Vice President Ken Lovan says, “The use of emergent technology can play a vital role in enabling the elderly and persons with disabilities to remain in their own homes, while maximizing scarce resources. Programs such as Rest Assured have been presented to numerous states and various CMS officials with universally positive reaction.”

However, states have been reluctant to authorize payment under the HCBS Waivers or to seek approval from CMS. CMS officials have provided verbal support for these approaches, but have yet to promote and support the services with states.

“CMS should reduce any perceived obstacles to the implementation and endorse the use of such telecare models by emphasizing the advantages which include greater individual independence and choice, safety and security, maximum use of limited resources and promotion of family involvement,” says Mr. Lovan.

So far, Rest Assured’s strongest advocates are its users.

“Rest Assured is completely focused on solving the challenges of the people they care for,” said Colleen. “The cost is much less than 24/7 home care would be and it’s geared toward what my mother needs, instead of what works for the company, which is much better than we ever hoped for.”

AUTHOR: Jill Vaught is Director of Organizational Advancement with The Arc of Indiana. Established in 1956 by parents of children with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, the Arc’s mission is to empower families with resources to assist them in raising a child with a disability; people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities to be self sufficient and independent to the greatest extent possible; inspire positive change in public policy and public attitudes; reduce the incidence of disabilities; and serve as an advocate for families and their loved ones. It is a member of The Arc of the United States.

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