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Missouri joins 'Technology First' movement in disability services

February 15, 2019 at 4:46 a.m. | Updated February 15, 2019 at 4:47 a.m.
Karl Wilson of the Missouri Mental Health Commission prepares to push the big red button before him during Thursday's demonstration of technology-based equipment to be used in the home. The button activates a request for help and is part of an overall system of sensors in an individual's home that can aid an individual to still be able to live alone but with outside monitoring. Commission members were shown a number of items that can help individuals with mental health challenges remain independent in their home.

Missouri's Mental Health Department wants more people with disabilities to add technology into their lives.

"There's a saying out there that you hear often in the technology world," David Baker, director of Missouri's Assisted Technology division, told the Mental Health Commission on Thursday morning. "For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier.

"For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible - and making things possible is exactly the idea that the 'Technology First' initiative will spread out across the state, as we find ways to use technology to enhance the independence, safety and security of folks in every corner of this state."

Jeremiah Gibson, of Kirksville, was "the first in the state to try this," his mother, Sue Gibson, told the commission. "The guidelines were literally being written as we were doing it."

Gibson, 33, has Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder the National Institutes of Health says typically results in a person having "mild to moderate intellectual impairment and learning disabilities, behavioral problems" - including temper outbursts, stubbornness and some compulsive behaviors - and some sleep abnormalities.

"Prader-Willi is a difficult syndrome to support," Sue Gibson told the Mental Health Commission members. "If he was easy to take care of and support, he would be in my home - but that's not the reality of life for us."

Jeremiah is assisted by staff people during the day from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. - then he's covered by a video monitoring system during the overnight hours, "which is to help keep him safe in his apartment," Sue said.

And that monitoring means "I have my own apartment," Jeremiah said. "No roommates."

Sue told the commission her son began living in "supported living" beginning at age 18 - but he always wanted to be on his own, even though "until Jeremiah was 26 years old, he was never, ever, ever physically alone anywhere."

She noted: "He let everybody know he was not happy" in the group settings.

"His behaviors escalated all through the years to the point where they were so serious, we were hospitalizing him."

That's when his family and his caregivers began trying the technology, including a tracking bracelet "that we (now) haven't (used) in six years," Sue said.

One night, someone broke into Jeremiah's apartment, and was seen on the camera and asked, "What are you doing here?" - and ran, she reported.

And, comfortable with his surroundings and the night-time technology, Jeremiah slept through it all - until the police arrived, woke him up and asked him what had happened.

"The plan is so well written that immediately the responses are there," Sue said - even when his building was hit by lightning, or the times he got sick or had seizures in the middle of the night.

When Sue asked Jeremiah if he's happier now, he said: "Oh, yeah! I'm on my own. I don't have to share my TV. I don't have to share the house. I don't share anything!"

Jamie Edmondson, 28, of Kirksville, uses a different form of technology during the overnight hours - she has sensors on her doors and windows that keep her apartment secure.

"It's more independent for me," she said. "If somebody breaks in, the alarm will go off."

She told the commission the technology had improved her life, because "I don't have staff during the night - and that is amazing."

Connie Halford, Edmondson's support person, told the commission: "At first, it wasn't all that easy for her. But slowly, she's progressed - and it's been wonderful."

Before she got acclimated, though, Halford said, Edmondson tested the system - by hiding the monitor in the laundry.

"We found it!" Halford said - showing Edmondson she could trust the system to work.

Valerie Huhn, director of DMH's Division of Developmental Disabilities, told the News Tribune: "Our goal is to get the word out about technology as an option.

"There are so many options out there, (and) we want families to understand this is a viable option, a successful option."

Huhn noted the state has a "workforce shortage for direct-support professionals (and) as our communities age, there's never going to be enough (professionals) - so we need to get people comfortable using technology" when finding people to work as caregivers is difficult.

Jeff Grosvenor, who retired from DMH several years ago, now is a business development consultant for Springfield-based provider 2gether Tech, which mainly uses a variety of sensors to monitor a client's home remotely.

Like other providers, its equipment is monitored constantly, so human intervention can occur quickly, when needed.

"This (technology services) is going to have to grow, because there's not enough direct-care staff," he told the commission.

There also will be a savings to the state, he said.

"We've found that we can do this for about $3 an hour," Grosvenor said. "If you compare that to $10 an hour (or) whatever the average is right now in the state of Missouri for direct-care staff, that's a significant savings."

Huhn noted Missouri's "Technology First" declaration brings it into a group of eight other states: Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

DMH Director Mark Stringer said the declaration is "a big day for the state. Everybody wins with Technology First."

Huhn said: "We're able to provide more safety, more security (and) better support. We really are changing people's lives."


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