Gaps in the resources available at senior care facilities appeared wide as canyons when the spread of COVID-19 made itself known in these centers.
And, where there weren’t enough humans, artificial intelligence showed potential to patch holes.
Although the ballooning of the world’s aging population set off discussion starting several years back — headlines touted a coming “revolution” in that industry — regarding AI’s role in care for the elderly, three-decade tech sector veteran Anil Chillarige said it’s only now starting to materialize.
“This technology just had not been applied to the senior care space to the extent it could be,” he said.
Chillarige is chief technology officer of a company involved in the industry’s more AI-friendly transformation. He’s helping guide SmartLinx, an Iselin-based leader in cloud workforce management solutions for senior care providers.
It’s advanced algorithms and machine learning technologies that Chillarige hopes will address some of what he calls long-existing “pain points” in the senior care business — or challenges for those staffing facilities and those receiving the care that got a whole lot more painful during the pandemic.
“The people giving care spend a lot of time doing it, and, in the process, they forget to take care of themselves,” he said. “They can be really stressed. So, some of the things we’re doing is gathering information with tech solutions to analyze how individuals are performing duties. … We can, for example, provide them intelligent suggestions on when to take breaks.”
Chillarige compared it to other consumer-oriented smart devices, including newly manufactured cars that can recognize the pattern of a drowsy driver and send a message to them recommending they take a break.
“The indications also help seniors who are given the care,” he said. “People who are giving care can be attentive and fresh. That way, they don’t make mistakes out of tiredness or the amount of time they’re spending working.”
The Iselin company started bringing together researchers, developers and their partners to advance its tech-laden approach at a lab it established last month. It’s in Charleston, South Carolina, where the company manufactures its product hardware.
Part of that initiative involves working on an AI-driven staffing tool that will serve as a matchmaker between available senior care staff and the facilities nearest them. The digital marketplace they’re creating in tandem with staffing companies will allow qualified individuals to move from one facility to another based on the needs of those facilities.
“It’s almost like we’re developing the Uber of the senior care space,” he said. “But that model in this space is really a win-win for everyone.”
At more than one in five nursing homes, there were severe shortages of staff and of personal protective equipment, according to a report in August from the medical journal Health Affairs.
While another Health Affairs report indicated that staffing levels did not “significantly” change during the pandemic, there was still a perception that the amount of existing staff at these facilities was not adequate for last year’s COVID-19 case surges.
“The pandemic really brought this issue to its peak level,” he said. “The problems for a facility were always this: staffing, staffing, staffing. Will you be able to find skilled people at a given time in a given location when you need them? That was the million-dollar question.”
In bridging some of the gaps in the support for the elderly, SmartLinx is working on utilizing “intelligent agents,” with something like Apple’s Siri being a close correlate. These all-AI agents can exhibit artificial emotional intelligence in their interactions with senior care residents.
Not all of what a company like SmartLinx is doing with algorithms sounds as science-fiction ready as robots chatting with the elderly, but when it comes to something like controlling the affordability of senior care facilities, there’s perhaps nothing more important.
Chillarige said the company is hoping to drive down costs by automatically creating senior care cost benchmarks in particular ZIP codes in a way that can predict costs better for those running facilities and the individuals using them.
“Today, there’s no real benchmark of that,” he said. “We’ve gathered information over the years — and now we’re putting it to use. We’re mapping the trends of cost, how it’s changing over the years and we can predict future costs in an area.”
Then, there are the technologies introduced in other industries as well during the pandemic, such as the mask facial detection and the remote temperature scanning systems.
Companies like SmartLinx have made sure they’re not a step behind on engineering any of these solutions for facilities that hold the populations most at-risk of bad COVID-19 outcomes.
“And all of these are solutions we can only enhance over time,” he said. “We believe this advanced technology will be really beneficial as we work to help transform senior care facilities.”