Partnership helping seniors stay in their homes longer

ST. STEPHEN – Kindred Home Care has partnered with the University of New Brunswick and VeroSource Solutions to use technology to help their clients stay in their homes as long as possible. The Wellness Check Initiative (WCI), which is funded by the Province of New Brunswick and the Public Health Agency of Canada, has launched the Healthy Seniors Pilot Project.

Kindred, the largest provider of home care to seniors in New Brunswick, is using the PITCH digital health platform developed by Professor Erik Scheme’s research team at UNB and VeroSource Solutions, which has a digital health platform that is the foundation of the solution to a problem that N.B. seniors and their families face every day. Kindred COO Will Bernard said funding for this initiative was provided through joint funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Province of New Brunswick.

Bernard said everyone at Kindred is very excited about WCI. He said Kindred has always embraced technology, and looks for ways to use it to help clients stay at home longer.

“We’ve been thinking this way for a very long time,” said Bernard. “We have a lot of clients across the province, and we love technology, and we really care about being proactive about health. A couple years ago we were in a conversation with Dr. Erik Scheme, and he had this idea of asking someone to sit down regularly with seniors and just ask them questions about physical health, mental health, and relationships.

“It’s just taking the time every week or so, sitting down with our clients who want to be part of it and asking them general questions about their health.”

WCI helps care providers to be able to assess and track the cognitive and physical health of their clients. They use blood pressure, weight, and other key indicators to track client health and work with the clients, with the goal being to flag any potential changes in before they become more serious. This includes falls or unexpected hospitalizations. Real-time data is used to help clients, their families, and the health care providers.

“The goal is to raise awareness,” said Bernard. “We want clients to notice what’s going on with their health, for the caregivers to notice. From that, we’re able to, if there’s larger changes we can work with their care team to try and catch things early. We want to help people stay independent and at home for as long as they can.”

Scheme, who is an Associate Professor at UNB and the Director of the Health Technology lab, said this project has been something he has been doing for the last few years. He said the PITCH program “enables patient-centric health care”, and it looks at how we can use technology to offer better support to the people in the community. He said his team is focusing on how technology can be used to “decrease social isolation” through data monitoring and technology.

“We’ve been doing that work in collaboration with VeroSource Solutions,” said Scheme. “We’ve done a bunch of the development ourselves at UNB, but we’ve leveraged the VeroSource platform to help us do that, faster and more securely. We have other funding from other sources to do the actual development of that platform.”

The WCI project was launched in November 2019, and more than 185 Kindred caregivers in the province have been trained to use the technology in order to be able to track the health care of their clients. This is done through a secure, custom app right on their smartphones. As of May, more than 110 clients have received assessments, and feedback from caregivers, clients, and their families has been extremely positive. The data helps to track the health needs of each client, so their care and medical treatments can be adjusted accordingly, and to add physical supports for improved mobility. The project will continue until this fall, and then the results will be compiled and shared by the research team.

“It’s extremely simple,” said Bernard. “There’s no big piece of equipment we’re bringing into the home. It’s a simple kit. They take blood pressures. There’s a scale and they’re taking weight. They’re assessing mobility. The caregivers are asking questions, standard questions. We’d be asking questions today, and then be checking back in in a month and asking similar questions.”

Scheme said the partnership with Kindred was a “logical fit” for himself and his team. They focus on using technology to bring people together, and since Kindred also embraces technology and has personal support workers in the homes already, it was a “natural fit”. He said it has been great to see how focused Kindred has been on this project.

“They’re deploying it across the province, and they’ve trained personal support workers to use our technology,” said Scheme. “They’re using their own cell phones to administer the tests, and each of them has a tool kit that they use. We’re taking blood pressure and weight, and we time a walking test that they do. They answer some questions about quality of life and cognition and stuff.

“The app walks them through the process of doing the assessment. What our app does is it facilitates them to be able to use these questions and technologies to take a measurement and enter it into the app. It’s informative for them, and it’s informative and engaging for the people that they’re taking care of.”

The app used for the project was created by VeroSource Solutions, a Fredericton-based company. The custom app was built specifically for the purpose of helping seniors to remain independent and in their own homes for as long as possible. Brent Daniel, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Privacy and Security Officer at VeroSource Solutions said he was involved in the initial proposal that Kindred, UNB, and VeroSource from the beginning.

“It’s really, really important,” said Daniel. “Our company has significant expertise in health care. We’ve been involved in every significant upgrade in the Department of Health in New Brunswick. Since 2014, we’ve been developing a software, as a service offering, a cloud-based technology stack that supports secure digital health applications.”

Daniel said the VeroSource Solutions partnership with Scheme was driven by “an alignment of his vision”, which was relative to what they were already implementing within their own framework. The WCI initiative has exceeded all expectations, and Daniel wants to give credit to Kindred for the level of engagement from the caregivers. He said his team is “super-excited” to be involved in the WCI project on a professional level, and on a personal level for himself.

“I have aging parents that I care for,” said Daniel. “Doing anything we can to improve the care for seniors and allowing them to stay in their homes is extremely important to myself personally, and the whole VeroSource team. That’s why we started this business in the first place.

“The role of health care analytics and data science is core to our company. We believe it’s going to have a significant impact in the health outcomes for seniors. We’re just really excited about the future.”

Scheme and his team have received a lot of “phenomenal” feedback from Kindred, their employees, and their clients. Caregivers have reported that they are getting more value in their jobs, and this is exciting to everyone who is involved in the WCI initiative. He would like to see more participants come on board with PITCH.

“The study is ongoing,” said Scheme. “We’re still collecting data. I believe we’re still open to taking more participants as well. Myself and the research team at UNB are continuing to grow this collaboration with VeroSource and build the platform. We’re happy to have people engage with us if there’s opportunities for collaboration.”

Bernard wants to thank everyone who has taken part in the WCI initiative, including Scheme, VeroSource Solutions, the caregivers who were so excited to take part, and the clients who are taking part. He also is very appreciative of the funding from the Government of Canada and the Province of New Brunswick.

“Obviously the funding is what made this possible, and our partners with UNB and VeroSource, and the clients and our caregivers. Just a huge shout-out to them.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca