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Can technology play a role in meeting staffing mandates? Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Not many within the senior living and care sector believe technology such as artificial intelligence or robots will replace caregivers. Rather, innovations will help make staff more efficient and less stressed out, they predict. 

Some companies believe that those tech efficiencies could equate to one full-time-equivalent staff member in senior living and care settings, said Laurie Orlov, founder of the website Aging and Health Technology Watch.

Given the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ new proposal of a first-ever mandatory staffing minimum for nursing homes, hope that tech can ease a staffing shortage is more than an academic concern.

The federally proposed rule has been met with a swift backlash from many leaders in the caregiving industry, who balk at the idea that there is a pool of nurses available to pull from to meet such mandates. 

One of the main challenges of the draft rule — which mandates 24/7 registered nurse coverage — already is being met, or can be met, in many skilled nursing facilities by new monitoring technologies, said Orlov, who is holding ongoing discussions on the future of care work with those in care-related industries. 

“Any tech that can sense a change and alert about a problem, like wandering around, going to the bathroom 10 times, and then produce a trend report? That can make staff more effective,” Orlov said. 

To be implemented on a greater scale, the cost does have to come down for sensor monitoring, Orlov noted, adding that many older adults still may refuse to allow for remote monitoring over concerns about privacy and personal freedoms. 

But although staff shortages in nursing homes have risen, the price of sensor technology has gone down, Orlov said.

She declined to opine on how the CMS rule might proceed or how the debate on that specific proposal may move forward, but Orlov did suggest that many of the issues within long-term care and caregiver retention could not be solved by any one-size-fits-all approach. 

“The whole picture of senior care needs to be thought through,” she said. “Not just one dimension.”