Using assistive technology to help residents become fully independent

Hightown Housing Association says it has empowered residents by using assistive technology to build confidence and reduced the need for on-site support workers

by Sebastian Moh

Even as we opened Stanton House in 2011, we were preparing for a future in which our service users may no longer need us. Our objective was to reach a point where residents felt empowered to live without onsite support, eventually needing only a minimal support package.

Up until earlier this year, the four apartments of Stanton House, Aylesbury, offered 24-hour care and support to four young adults with learning disabilities. Today, all live independently in their homes and a key aspect of our care strategy relies on assistive technology.

Our plan was ambitious as none of the residents had lived independently before and they were receiving round-the-clock support. However, seven years on, the transformation to their lives is clear.

A logical step

After years of building the confidence and skills needed by our service users to live independently, it wasn’t so much of a big change when the time came to reduce and, eventually, remove 24/7 staff support. Instead, it was seen as the next logical step.

From the start we talked with residents, parents and carers about how we could support them as part of our Independent Living Pathway, phasing out the need for onsite support workers. At first, we withdrew the sleep-in support worker, then we gradually reduced the number of on-site staff hours and, finally, the office provision was replaced with an outreach support service.

It was clear from the beginning of the programme that assistive technology had the potential to play a key role in providing the support our residents required. It would allow them to develop their autonomy while we remained able to monitor their progress and ensure they had the support they needed.

Devices and aids

Everyone had a mobile phone, so alarms and reminders were used to ensure that residents were taking their medication properly. One service user, who relied on a hearing aid, was provided with a Bellman system that lights up and vibrates to ensure they were alerted to alarms or even the doorbell.

We also fitted a bed monitor to aid an epileptic service user, which checked for vibration and movement in the night. This was linked to a ‘man-down’ pager system, which could notify staff if further assistance was required.

Aside from the safety aspect, the technology helped to reassure residents as they moved towards greater independence that help was never far away, should they need it. But the measures also created an opportunity for a new resident to receive support when we got to the stage where live-in support was no longer required.

Taking control

All four individuals now live independently and work, either as volunteers or in paid employment. Former residents are also involved in their community, undertaking activities and classes and each one has embraced the change to their lifestyle. Meanwhile, each member of staff has now transferred to work for other Hightown services across Buckinghamshire.

Those who took part in the project found the experience rewarding as there were clear goals for each resident and staff reported how progress was visible, especially in the latter months. It has shown that harnessing independence is a key aspect of how we must think about care.

For the council, Stanton House’s funding authority, the transition to a minimal support package delivered annual savings of over £100k. And, with around 38% of Buckinghamshire county council’s annual budget to be spent on adult social care, health and wellbeing during, it’s unsurprising that any cost saving methods are met with enthusiasm.

Lessons learned

Assistive technology is always developing and we can see how it can play a central part in helping service users to be less dependent on social care services.

After seeing the positive outcomes for all involved, we’re now exploring how we could learn from the success at Stanton House and apply our Independent Living Pathway to other supported living schemes across our portfolio.

I believe there is a pragmatic approach support providers can take to help local authorities address the uncomfortable, but necessary, budget pressures while keeping service users’ interests at the heart of their approach.

Proactive planning and collaboration with families, carers, Bucks council and staff  suggests care and support contracts can be adapted to support individuals to make a positive, managed transition to independent living.

Sebastian Moh is head of care and supported housing for Hightown Housing Association in Buckinghamshire

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