Nova Scotia

Halifax nursing home goes high-tech to empower residents, free up staff

Inside a Halifax nursing home, two new technologies are giving residents back some of their independence and helping staff focus on caring for residents.

'For 21 years I've been waiting for something like this,' says resident Jacklyn Carter

Jacklyn Carter says she has some newfound personal freedom since a new voice-command system was installed in her room at Northwood in Halifax's north end. The system lets her control the lights, bed, television and other electronics in her room with just her voice. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Jacklyn Carter finally feels free.

Despite being a quadriplegic and needing to get around in a motorized wheelchair, the Halifax resident said she feels more independent than she has in years.

It's all thanks to a smart speaker that allows her to control the electronics in her bedroom via voice command.

"For 21 years, I've been waiting for something like this," she said.

That's how long its been since Carter slipped on a pool ladder, struck her head and ended up paralyzed.

Carter says it only took her five to 10 minutes to learn how to use the voice-activated system in her room. The hardest part was remembering which commands did what. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Carter said she's happy to go into her room and decide what she wants to do, without having to worry about calling someone in to do it for her.

She lives at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax's north end. The non-profit organization runs two such facilities and has more than 600 residents.

Northwood has been working hard to use technology to help give people back a measure of independence, cut down on staff injuries and free up more time for employees to take care of people's medical needs.

Janet Simm, Northwood's president, said giving residents back some personal control adds to their quality of life.

"That's just the true definition of dignity and controlling your own world. Making your own personal choices, that's just something that most of us take for granted every day," said Simm.

Carter's Google Home smart speaker routes her voice commands to the other smart devices in her room. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Carter's room is outfitted with a Google Home smart speaker that's connected to special Wi-Fi enabled devices that let her turn on her lights, activate a fan, adjust her bed and channel surf.

"I just can't tell you how much easier my life has been since I've had this," said Carter, "Compared to getting somebody in here at all times just for simple little things, now I can do it and it's very satisfactory for me."

Novalte, an assistive technology company, set up Carter's room.

Janet Simm is president of Northwood. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"What we've found is the system saves about 45 minutes a day in care time, so the staff can actually focus on more care needs than these mundane tasks of controlling your lights and TV and that kind of stuff," said Michael Cullen, Novalte's CEO.

Still, there are limitations to this new technology.

Northwood recently detected a virus in the organization's computer system. As a result, it disconnected the Wi-Fi at the two facilities. Without an internet connection, devices like Google Home can't be used.

As of last Friday, Simm didn't know how long the organization's systems would be offline. However, the systems were back up and running on Sunday. 

The power of paraglide 

Even the ability to sit comfortably in a wheelchair is something many people in nursing homes can't do by themselves because they lack the strength to reposition their bodies.

Normally, it takes two or more people to reposition someone in their chair, which means people often have to wait for staff to come and help them out.

There's also a risk to workers because lifting someone can lead to injury.

Michael Cullen is the CEO of Novalte, the company that setup the voice-activated system in Carter's room. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Fifty per cent of all workplace injuries in health care are the direct result of trying to move a person, said Matthew MacKenzie, president and CEO of Mackenzie Healthcare Technologies.

At Northwood's request, MacKenzie's company started a three-year engineering project and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to solve the problem. They came up with a device called paraglide.

A small, motorized cylinder is attached to a wheelchair and connected to a specially designed sheet that the person in the wheelchair sits on. The underside of the sheet slides easily against the wheelchair, while the top of the sheet grips the person sitting on it.

Matthew MacKenzie is president and CEO of MacKenzie Healthcare Technologies, which made paraglide. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

If the person in the wheelchair finds that they're slouched too far forward, they simply touch the paraglide remote and the high-powered motor hauls on the sheet and pulls the person back into a comfortable position. The device then unspools the cloth back to its original position so it can be used again when the person needs it.

MacKenzie said people using paraglide on their own reposition themselves eight to 15 times a day more than those who don't have the technology.

"That just tells you how uncomfortable the residents can be, but they just don't have the ability to reposition themselves," said MacKenzie.

Small but mighty, the motorized paraglide cylinder can move someone weighing up to 300 pounds. A heavier-duty model can even move someone weighing up to 550 pounds. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"They're very willing to use new technology to improve their quality of life."

The paraglide's base model can move someone weighing up to 300 pounds and a heavier-duty model can reposition someone weighing up to 550 pounds.

It also includes an audible and visual alert on its remote that goes off every hour to let the user know they need to be repositioned to avoid bedsores and other skin injuries.

MacKenzie said the device will cut down on bedsores, help reduce injuries to health-care staff and allow caregivers to do other work, instead of spending time repositioning residents.

This special fabric is attached to the motorized portion of the paraglide machine. The top of the sheet grips the user so the machine can easily pull them, while the bottom of the sheet is made to glide along the wheelchair's surface. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"We put so much blood, sweat and tears and money into the development of paraglide. To know that it's actually really going to make a positive difference in people's lives is pretty great," said MacKenzie.

So far, paraglide has been used at Northwood on a trial basis, and it's looking at expanding the machine's use. Earlier this month, MacKenzie and his team went to Japan to demonstrate paraglide at a long-term care facility that has 25,000 residents.

Paraglide is expected to be on the market in early 2020 and is estimated to be sold to facilities for around $1,100 US a unit, and could be sold to individuals for around $1,400 US per unit.

Michele Lowe is managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

In March, Novalete plans to expand the number of rooms with voice activation at Northwood. Northwood is also looking at how these different technologies could be adapted for people who need home care.

Michele Lowe, the managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, hopes these devices will eventually move into other nursing homes across the province.

"We know that we definitely have vacancies and staff challenges in this province, so any further solution that can provide a benefit to both the resident and the staff is a win-win for everybody," said Lowe.

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