This article was first published in ADASS.
At the height of the recent lockdown and restrictions on normal life, local authorities were placed in a difficult position in figuring out how to adapt their local services to the needs of their population. For many people living independently at home, this was an especially worrying time as their reassuring weekly routine was totally dismantled. Weekly shopping, social groups, day centres and carer visits were all impacted in one way or another.
The role of technology enabled care (TEC, or telecare) was an interesting one. For some critics technology has long been considered either incidental to ‘proper’ statutory care services, or worse still, an intervention that undermines connectedness for the very people who need it most.
However, during these unprecedented times, when opportunities for social contact have been dramatically reduced, the ability for technology to help maintain some level of ‘normal’ cannot be underestimated. People have picked up video calling or online messaging for the first time. Families have made special efforts to involve elderly loved ones in family gatherings remotely. For example, one of our recent installation involved connecting a 103-year-old with his carer son using Amazon Alexa. Care services have also used technology to adapt their efforts where restrictions, such as in care homes, have made family visits impractical.
TEC services have adapted to these new demands and been relied upon more than ever to support some of the most vulnerable in our society. The need for these services to be resilient and flexible is key. Communities have called on TEC services to offer greater reassurance and advice as people have tried to navigate the new restrictions to maintain their normal way of life. TEC monitoring centres have been more than just a button for use in an emergency and have become a helpful resource to act as a remote carer. One monitoring centre recorded a demand increase of 33% during the height of the lockdown. These calls were often more about advice and support than emergency response.
To build a TEC service that is resilient enough to carry on despite everything changing around it, and flexible enough to adapt to support additional pathways and projects that local authorities must deliver, it is key that is well-commissioned. Such a service can greatly increase the ability of a Council to respond in a crisis, such as Coronavirus, and allow it to focus precious, and limited, expert human resources on the many other things that it needs to do.
So, for the critics of technology who claim that TEC puts distance between people and is only ever a means to cut costs, the recent crisis should serve as a powerful counterargument. The experience of the lockdown is that, when traditional approaches are no longer possible, technology can bring us together and enable us to connect with those we care for.
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