Deer Park Villa pilot project aims to get seniors back on their feet

Deer Park Villa pilot project aims to get seniors back on their feet

Niagara Region, EMS partner in lift-assist program in Grimsby

Photo: Deer Park Villa staff Sandra Grant and Susan Karns demonstrate use of the Elk to assist Jessie Benham onto her feet without the risks associated with physically lifting a resident. – Steve Henschel/Torstar

Sophie Pikor swears by the Elk.

When the Deer Park Villa resident fell recently, finding herself unable to get up, the Elk was there, to lift her gently onto her feet, with a little help from one staff member.

“I just lifted right up on my feet and I thought holy cow,” said Pikor.

That fall was one of 12 thus far this year at the 26-resident Region long-term-care facility. Of those 12, staff were able to use the Elk seven times to assist residents to their feet, avoiding a call to EMS for assistance and a possible trip to the hospital for residents.

For those wondering the Elk is no antlered woodland creature, it is a portable device that uses a series of inflatable cushions to lift seniors who have fallen to a seated position and then onto their feet. Use of the device is part of a unique pilot program at Deer Park Villa partnering the Region and Niagara EMS in developing methods to assist facility staff and residents while cutting down on calls for the ambulance.

“We’re looking at ways to address some of the core causes for EMS calls,” said Niagara EMS commander of quality assurance and performance standards Karen Lutz, explaining for LTC homes many calls are often related to falls.

Because staff at homes, for their own safety and that of clients, are bound by no-lift policies it means EMS is most often called when a resident falls and can’t get up. In turn many residents are transported to hospital when they could have been treated for minor injuries on site. That in turn exposes seniors to a whole host of other risk factors in the hospital, such as possible infections.

“The evidence really supports not taking elderly people to hospital indiscriminately,” said Lutz, who spent time in Wales shadowing EMS there to learn some best practices when it comes to fall intervention.

Assisted living and wellness services manager for Region seniors community programs Melissa Murray explained the problem is two-fold. First the personal support workers, of which there may only be one or two present, don’t have the medical training to properly assess whether a senior should be lifted to their feet, but they also risk injury of themselves and the patient when they do attempt to lift them by hand.

“We have about 50 falls a year just here,” she said, noting Deer Park Villa is relatively small compared to other Region LTC sites with hundreds of beds. In the first quarter of 2018 before the pilot project 57 per cent of falls saw EMS called for assistance. Extrapolate those figures across the entire Region and the result is hundreds of calls to EMS.

To combat both the lack of assessment ability and the risks accompanied with lifting seniors the pilot project has picked up two processes for use at Deer Park Villa.

The first is ISTUMBL — intense pain; suspected collapse; trauma to neck, back, head; unusual behaviour; marked difficulty in breathing; bleeding; loss of consciousness — a guide of sorts comprised of a series of yes or no questions guiding staff on when EMS should be called and when a resident should be lifted.

If, after running through the ISTUMBL questions, the guide directs staff to assist the resident on their own Elk comes into play. Allowing one staff member to easily lift a patient to their feet. The device is small enough to be used in tight spaces, and can be easily used by just one staff member, two critical features for use in Regional homes.

“We’re really looking at client experiences,” said Murray, explaining many seniors are fearful of falling and lying on the floor awaiting EMS and a possible trip to the hospital. The guide and Elk help with that.

Pikor was more than willing to attest to that factor when Elk helped her after a fall.

“I wasn’t a bit scared,” she said, adding, “in no time at all she just had me standing up.”

It was a sentiment shared by resident Jessie Benham.

“It is the perfect thing to get you up,” she said.

It seems the pilot project is already bearing results. While the first quarter of 2019 had a statistically low number of falls, 58 per cent of them used the Elk and only 33 per cent required a call to EMS, a nearly 24 per cent reduction of calls over the same quarter in 2018.

“There’s a huge opportunity here to scale,” said Murray.