Tech Connections Make Tough Times Easier

Bandwidth, back-up and brilliant staff are among the key ingredients of successful video conferencing in aged care, writes Natasha Egan in the August issue of Australian Ageing Agenda. In her story, Natasha profiles the work of SummitCare in facilitating staff communication and keeping connections alive between residents and their families. Here is an edited excerpt, printed with Natasha’s kind permission.

The spread and threat of coronavirus is seeing a huge increase in the use of a particular technology application by aged care organisations around the country. Video calls. For both in-house meetings and keeping residents and family members connected, aged care is ramping up its use of video conferencing technologies.

Among them is New South Wales provider SummitCare, which uses a Google platform across its business plus iPads at each facility for residents to use for communication and activities. Michelle Sloane, Chief Operating Officer, says they have used Google Hangouts for team and leadership meetings for a number of years because some of their sites are remote and staff, leadership and office staff sit in two suburbs on the opposite sides of Sydney.

“It is a tool we have used a lot and therefore we have adapted quite quickly to this situation,” Michelle said.

By this situation, she means the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it has affected, which include working from home and visitor restrictions across their 10 residential care facilities.

All of SummitCare’s sites are set up with Chrome boxes and very large smart televisions in meetings rooms to facilitate team meetings.

“I prefer normally to visit on site so that we can see the staff and interact with them on a more personal basis. I know a lot of the families and a lot of the residents as well…But at the moment we are having all of our meetings virtually.”

SummitCare is also doing regional Hangouts, where staff from three or four homes in one region and head office staff get together virtually, says Michelle.

“I had one meeting with up to 60-odd people in a Hangout. By the time we added in people’s houses we were at about 18 different locations. It is amazing technology.”

SummitCare residents are also using iPads and iPhones and video conferencing technology, she says. “The homes are mostly using things like WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime. If they can use Google Hangouts they will, but they are becoming flexible.”

“We [recently] did a survey with our residents and had a really high percentage of return where they said we were doing exactly what they think we should do; keeping them safe,” she says, adding that “a very collaborative team” is key to getting the most out of video conferencing in aged care.

“We have very engaged teams in our homes and they only want the best outcomes, as all aged care providers do for their residents.”

Training has been another enabler. SummitCare rolled out digital skills training in February last year to 19 lifestyle officers to show them how to use iPads with residents.

“The whole thing about it is it is trying to get rid of all the myths and misconceptions and get residents interacting with our staff’s help.”

Currently, residents share iPads with about four other residents on average. In addition to video and telephone calls, they are using the devices for the Be Connected program, Dementia Australia’s A Better Visit app, board games and word finds among other things.

“Technology is a great enabler and across the SummitCare group, we’re communicating better within the organisation and keeping our residents better connected.”

A full version of this article appears in the current edition of Australian Ageing Agenda.

Find out more information about SummitCare residential aged care homes in NSW.
Tech Connections Make Tough Times Easier