Would “baby monitors” eliminate home care jobs?

Rep. Drazkowski meets with AFSCME members

AFSCME Council 5 posted the following video online today of its contentious meeting with Minnesota State Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa). Drazkowski faced harsh questioning from union members for his support of legislation that could slash 20,968 public and private sector jobs in health and human services. He came under further fire for suggesting that remote monitoring applications — what he called “baby monitors” — could replace some home care workers.

TheUpTake spoke today with Rep. Drazkowski, who defended his words by emphasizing the need for “doing things more innovatively within all areas of government.” By “baby monitors” Drazkowski was referring to an innovative new tool being used by the Winona, Minn.-based support provider Home and Community Options, which uses videos, sensors and intercom systems to remotely monitor certain low-risk clients while they sleep at night, in order to cut back on operating costs. “I used the analogy of a baby monitor to help (AFSCME) understand how this technology would work,” said Drazkowski. “Obviously, they worked as hard as they could to take it out of context.”

Denny Theede, executive director of Home and Community Options, prefers the term “remote monitoring applications” to baby monitors. He says that they can be used in lieu of night staff in a residential home that provides 24-hour care. Theede described to TheUpTake how a movement sensor going off in the home, a fire alarm or an intruder would alert dispatchers, who would immediately send “boots by the bed” workers to the home within 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the dispatcher could communicate with clients through the intercom, and monitor them via video (to protect privacy, videos are not available in bedrooms and bathrooms). “Think of it in terms of smart homes,” Theede analogized. “People know the temperature of their home while they’re on vacation.”

Theede estimates that remote monitoring applications are saving about $20,000 per year in one home where four men live — 12.5 percent of that home’s annual operating costs. But of 18 homes that Home and Community Options runs in Winona County, he says the application would work only in two homes. Theede declined to estimate the savings in care homes statewide — or the numbers of jobs it may cost.

In other words, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Remote monitoring applications would work only “where there is cognitive ability and life-safety balance to provide quality of care,” said Theede. When the 10-minute dispatch time could prove the difference between life and death — such as for an autistic person who wakes up and continuously bangs their head against the wall — remote monitoring applications are not an option.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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