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Most of the care homes within the Southern Trust have been provided with a digital device to allow residents to stay connected to family, to clinicians and to the outdoors.

The EU-funded mPower team based within the Southern Heath and Social Care Trust is currently providing the Care Homes with a pre-loaded digital device allowing residents to stay connected to family, to clinicians and to the outdoors. 

 Avila Nursing Home in Bessbrook is using the technology to connect their residents to family.
Avila Nursing Home in Bessbrook is using the technology to connect their residents to family.

mPower uses digital interventions to enable older people in remote areas to live safely and independently in their own homes by introducing them to various health and wellbeing technologies.

Aidan McCabe, mPower Implementation Lead, has been working as part of the EU INTERREG VA-funded project, mPower, since March 2019. Aidan leads the team which is helping older people and those who have long-term health conditions and chronic illnesses to create wellbeing plans, in a bid to improve their day to day lives. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 the team have expanded to cover The Mournes area after it became clear through the regional Covid-19 Community Helpline that there was a need for the service in these areas also. 

Right at the outset of the pandemic, as Care Homes sought to protect residents, Aidan was aware of the isolation and loneliness that residents would inevitably feel and got straight to work in figuring out how mPower could assist.

Drawing on the recent consultation that the Trust’s Health and Wellbeing team had carried out the month before the crisis hit, Aidan realised that a way to give the residents what they wanted could still be done digitally via connected devices, keeping them Covid-19 safe and reducing feelings of isolation, something that was only going to increase once the doors had closed. 

Aidan said “After speaking with just a few of the Care Homes initially, I knew the first challenge was to get the technology into the Homes, many of which had no dedicated ways to get residents online. Wi-Fi was also an issue, often it was the case that it was only available in the activity room or the admin office, neither of which was practical. Many residents are bed bound but I felt this shouldn’t have been something that stopped them from seeing their loved ones”. 

St Joseph’s Nursing Home in Warrenpoint are benefiting from the mPower initiative.

He continued “We purchased 10 devices and made them SIM enabled with pre-purchased Wi-Fi connectivity so they could be used anywhere in the Home and residents could have private calls with their family and friends.”

The devices were cleared of all unnecessary features which might be complicated to someone using them for the first time and pre-loaded with content and features that would be of interest and of benefit to Care Home residents, as indicated in the consultation. 

Aidan explained “The results of the questionnaire showed some clear areas where people were lacking a sense of connection. The questionnaire was completed pre-pandemic so we knew that these areas would be even more appreciated in the lockdown. The devices were loaded with 5 simple folders for social and physical activities, clinical engagements and to support emotional wellbeing. The fifth and final folder was dedicated to staff to allow them to access online training and updates to regulations in a clear, simple and timely way and without having to travel.”

The devices were set up to be as easy to use as possible, so that within 2 or 3 clicks a resident could access the app or tool they were intending to use. Within the Social Activity folder were all the various apps to allow video calling, social media, messaging and photo sharing. Within the Physical folder were various links to a range of physical exercises and activities, ranging from chair or bed bound sequences through to a more vigorous, catering for all levels and abilities. And within the Health and Wellbeing folder the content available related to being outdoors with live webcams to RSPB sites, Lochs and Rivers Authority, National Trust sites and a whole host of other outdoor spaces. Aidan added “Whilst it’s not the same as physically getting out into nature or outside of the home, it’s a nice option to have when no other options are available”.

Because Church services have also been restricted this year, the devices included religious content such as Scriptures as well as general library services where residents could download a whole range of books and magazines. The local museum even created a virtual tour and there are plans to start doing online Memory box sessions, creating some nostalgia and interactivity for residents. As well as content that has been sourced specifically, residents can access music sites, Google, You Tube and all the usual internet content to enjoy, some have been listening to and reminiscing about their first wedding dance song and looking at pictures of old cars.  The final folder is to enable clinicians to have interactions and appointments with residents using Southern Trust approved platforms and the team have been working hard to ensure all teams within the Trust know that this option is available to continue consultations with patients. 

Aidan concluded “We are delighted that the project was literally an overnight success! Many of the Care Homes told us that after we had delivered the devices, the very next day they were being used and they didn’t go off until they needed to be charged! We have just completed the 3-month review and I’m absolutely thrilled with the results that the data is showing us. At least 50% of the Care Home residents have been regularly using the devices, mostly for connecting with friends and family. We always knew it would be successful, but now we have the proof that this intervention has supported so many people through this difficult time and we know it will be successful when rolled out more widely”. 

Ingrid Stewart, Older Persons Lead, Promoting Wellbeing, spoke about the next steps for the project and said  “We’ve been able to share the successful model with the wider community, not only within the Southern  Trust – where 35 additional devices have been pre-loaded with the mPower content and are being distributed to all Care Homes in the Trusts area, but also with colleagues in the Western Health and Social Care Trust, HSE in Ireland and Scotland and that’s creating a fantastic legacy. A huge well done to Aidan and the team, we couldn’t be prouder of your work”. 

Gerard Rocks, Assistant Director of Promoting Wellbeing added ’’We’re very pleased to be able to make a difference in the lives of our Care Home residents and staff during what has been an extremely challenging time for all. The ability to stay connected has proved to be beneficial in supporting mental and emotional wellbeing and in reducing the impact of social isolation resulting from COVID-19. We’re delighted to be able to share the learning from this initiative with colleagues across Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Scotland which we hope will lead to the further expansion of this approach.”

For more information on how mPower can help you, visit MPOWERHEALTH.EU

To self-refer to the project or to find out more for a family member please contact the mPower Newry and South Armagh team, email Aidan.McCabe@southerntrust.hscni.net or telephone Aidan on 028 3083 4207.

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