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Photo: John Merkle at Elmhurst Park Place
Photo: John Merkle at Elmhurst Park Place

Senior living operators that aren't taking adequate measures to keep their residents safe and secure — in a dignified and discreet way that promotes independence, privacy and autonomy — face liability risks, poor reviews and the very real risk of losing business to competitors. 

Residents entering the senior living environment present numerous challenges that must be proactively addressed. Across the senior care continuum, residents are older and frailer. Many enter communities with multiple comorbidities and cognitive decline, all of which makes them more prone to falls, wandering, elopement and more. What's more, comprehensive resident security and safety solutions are a growing expectation, not just for residents and their families, but also for employees.

“Families and residents count on senior living communities for comfort and safety, but resident and staff quality of life is equally important,” says Michael Andolina, marketing director at Response Care (RCare).

A host of innovative and robust resident security solutions are helping operators meet (and even exceed) those needs and expectations, often in cost-effective ways that make the most of their existing systems and infrastructures, sources told McKnight's Senior Living.

“Technology is rapidly providing senior living operators with cost-effective security, connection and personalization to enhance independence with tethered interdependence,” says Val Ornoy, CEO at LifeAssist Technologies. “Resident-centric connectivity provides everyone involved with the peace of mind that security is being performed and that the timely data gathered will result in the best and earliest response.”

Focus on flexibility

Because residents' security and care needs differ and will continue evolving over time, security solutions providers also must develop flexible products to meet those changes. 

“The use cases for emergency call, wander management, fall reduction, etc., haven't changed, but the way of thinking about it certainly has,” says Steve Elder, director of communications for Stanley Healthcare. “The quality of the resident experience is critically important. By putting the resident at the center, you naturally focus on autonomy and dignity, as well as safety. The technology has evolved to support that vision.”

Enhanced integration and ease of use continue to be top technological priorities for operators and vendors alike. Stand-alone systems have given way to solutions that easily can connect to different systems and devices, allowing for simplified data capture and seamless alerts that allow for more rapid response.

“We're hearing more about alarm fatigue,” notes Tim Fischer, vice president of sales at RF Technologies. “We have integrated our fall management systems into our nurse call. Even wirelessly, you can now get an alert within your call system rather than a frightening noise at the resident's side.”

More than ever, alerts are going to mobile and smart technology as opposed to just a central nurses' station. This allows caregivers to receive critical resident information wherever they are in the community.

When alerts are addressed and the resident's needs are met, solutions should allow caregivers to quickly and easily clear the alerts from the system, without unnecessary steps, according to Todd Stanley, senior product manager at Inovonics. “As new technology is introduced, you need to understand the workflow of the caregivers,” he says, adding that Inovonics recently has simplified its alarm-clearing function to allow caregivers to more quickly and easily move onto their next task.

Security solutions providers also recognize the need for relaying secure resident information to caregivers and other employees. “Privacy regulations, such as HIPAA, require the protection of private resident data,” Andolina reminds. To help meet those requirements, RCare's customized, locked-down RPhone offers all the key caregiver communication features needed to address resident needs, while excluding other features that could jeopardize privacy, such as camera, personal texts or social media access.

Wireless solutions also continue to gain ground in the senior housing segment, a shift experts attribute to the ease of use and scalability of WiFi, which can allow operators to more easily cover their entire campuses. Alarm reliability is another key advantage, according to Stanley at Inovonics. “UL 2560 is the standard for wireless e-call systems, and there's a 99.99 percent alarm delivery reliability.”

That's not to say wired solutions don't still have their place, however. Some facilities and solutions providers are more comfortable with hardwired solutions (or a combination of both wired and wireless), especially if they aren't certain the WiFi infrastructure can continue supporting a growing array of wireless technologies. RF Technologies, for example, offers both wired and wireless options for its nurse call systems. “Both work with our Code Alert software and reporting systems,” Fischer says, adding that a benefit of wireless is the system can be reconfigured as residents' needs change.

If a community is looking to pursue wireless solutions, it's beneficial to have a five- to 10-year wireless infrastructure plan in place to ensure the WiFi structure is adequate, notes Steve Gately, director of sales and marketing at Secure Care Products. “If you keep buying wireless technology, you need to make sure your WiFi structure won't crush under the weight of additional wireless technologies.”

Security solutions that can play with a range of smart technologies also are being more widely sought, sources say. Fischer says operators have stated they don't want to be locked into one provider or even to a phone, which is why RF Technologies offers both iOS and Android versions for its smartphone app. 

The company's systems also work with iPod touch devices — a plus for communities that “want the care coordination and data capture ability, but don't want anything to do with smartphones,” Fischer says. 

Better accuracy, data

When a resident is in need, knowing where he or she is located is critical for rapid, effective response. Modern resident security solutions are providing real-time resident location with far greater accuracy. As Inovonics' Stanley points out, there's a big distinction between real-time locating capabilities that can pinpoint a resident's location as the resident travels around the community, as opposed to alarm-based location technologies that only inform caregivers where the resident was located when the alarm was sent.

More sophisticated technology is putting an end to locked doors and physical barriers that convey “institutional” as opposed to “residential.” Customizable, resident-specific parameters easily can be programmed into the system, and when combined with wearable tracking technology, allow residents more freedom to safely move throughout the community. RCare's safety zone and resident locator GeoPendant allows operators to define customized areas that are safe for a resident, without using walls and locked doors.

“Seniors can move about the community freely, but if they move outside their customized safety zone, a discreet alert will be sent to specified caregivers,” Andolina explains.

Cutting-edge real-time locating system platforms now make it possible to find residents, staff and even high-value assets with near-pinpoint accuracy. The real-time locating system platform from Secure Care, for example, uses Ultra Wideband to improve accuracy with less hardware, allowing for locating accuracy of plus or minus one foot — without the need for hardware to be in each room. Gately says the company's ENVisionIT RTLS platform seamlessly integrates with Secure Care's Door Guardian resident wandering system and allows full RTLS software access on mobile devices. Staff members can receive and acknowledge alarm notifications on their mobile devices, and both residents and employees can be located in real time by location and name.

Sensor-based tracking technologies can improve resident care and quality service delivery in other ways as well. According to Ornoy, care technology can now manage, monitor, personalize, predict trends and modify behavior that will assist residents with declining memory or abilities with engagement and security. “In-home sensors, remote reporting and utilizing wearables data, when combined with artificial intelligence, can provide security triggers and alerts based on prescribed events. This drives systems and services that can proactively respond to any given security requirements,” he says.

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