April 20, 2016

New York State is going through a difficult economic period which has resulted in significant budget cuts and reduced services to the developmentally and intellectually disabled (DD/I) population. This is not limited to New York.  All states are experiencing the effects of reduced government dollars.

This economic situation is the result of a hard trend—the population of baby boomers is aging into retirement and the DD/I population is living longer.  Both populations are competing for the same pool of money, resulting in fewer Medicaid dollars per individual.  The result is that states are trying to service more people with less money, and in many instances, failing.  A similar crisis is beginning to occur in the corporate world as employees attempt to deal with the stress of raising younger children and caring for their elderly parents.

While there is no single answer to the budget cuts and the systemic changes we are experiencing, it seems only reasonable to take the fullest advantage of the resources at our disposal.  One of those resources is technology.  How can technology offset some of the effects of budget cuts to our population of people with special needs?

Suppose an agency oversees a group home which requires 24 hour staffing.  This requires an overnight staff person.  The overnight individual is often there in the event that one of the residents requires attention during the night.  The assumption is that the employee is awake and is being paid as such. Is that assumption correct, however?  Perhaps more to the point, do we really need that person to be awake the entire night?

Suppose that we place sensors in the resident’s bed and in certain key areas of the home (the stove, for example) which alert the staff that one of the residents is moving around.  We can even install a button that the employee must tap to acknowledge that he has responded to the sensor within a certain period of time.  This would allow the agency to hire a “sleeping” staff employee at a reduced hourly wage.  This is a preferable alternative since the staff person has been alerted to the resident’s movement and the response time is monitored and recorded.  The use of technology in this way would both improve the care while simultaneously saving the agency valuable money which can be spent elsewhere.

Other types of technology, such as programmable medication dispensers, environmental controls, video doorbells and recognition devices to monitor visitor access would also allow people with special needs to live more independently.  This same technology can be used with the elderly.

Where will this change emanate?  It will most likely begin with the residential directors and other middle-level staff who are more closely involved in the caregiving but who are in a position to make suggestions to higher-level management.  CEOs and IT departments are often too far removed from the caregiving piece to initiate the transition.  The supervisors of the caregivers, however, can better grasp the benefits and implementation of the technology once they are aware of its existence and capabilities.

It will require a philosophical change in the agency’s approach to staffing, but in many cases it could prove to be a beneficial one for both the agencies and the individuals they serve.