Amid talk of reducing state social service costs through the private sector, along comes the Technology Center of Meriden, a regional training center that's touted as a way to improve social services and save money.
The “one-stop” shop provides a place where social workers and their clients can learn how to use assistive technology, like automated pill dispensers and videoconferencing programs. Located in a former mill building at 290 Pratt St., the 10-foot-by-12-foot center began operating in February, according to a press release.
“We are incredibly proud to be part of this innovative collaboration,” said Ron D’Aquila, co-founder and president of Assisted Living Technologies, which partnered with The Arc of Meriden-Wallingford Inc., among other agencies, on the center. “We will be able to get the best technology into the hands of anyone who has barrier issues at home, in the community or at their job.”
Assisted Living Technologies, founded in 2010, specializes in technology designed for people aging at home. The company displays its devices at its 74 South Broad St. headquarters and in a showroom at the New England Assistive Technology Resource & Education Center at Oak Hill in Hartford. Unlike the other facilities, however, the new Meriden satellite showroom provides training seminars for social services representatives to become credentialed assistive technology assessors.
Those seminars cover such devices as automated medication dispensers, which send alerts to caregivers if a dosage is missed; remote monitoring/wander prevention systems, which track activity such as getting out of bed; video visit technology so care providers can see and speak with clients; and fire avert systems, which can automatically turn off an unattended stoves.
CUNO Grant, Meriden Foundation, and Wallingford Foundation provide the equipment on display at the center and its learning labs, while Assisted Living Technologies is the equipment’s vendor. Further equipment funding will be pursued through various grants and foundations, organizers say. Staffing is currently being done by volunteers with the possibility of a salaried position given adequate funding by member agencies, who participate on a co-op basis.
The arrangement calls for social service agencies to pay $100 per month to join center. More than a dozen have paid $1,200 for year memberships so far. They include Residential Management Services, Arc of Southington, Acord Inc., All Pointe Care, MARC Community Resources, CW Resources, Mosaic, Arc of Quinebaug Valley, HARC, Marrakech and NERS.
The concept for the training center grew out of repeated requests to The Arc for presentations about how to move people from group homes to less expensive independent living, organizers said.
“By partnering with ALT we have saved the state thousands of dollars while increasing inclusion and independence for our clients,” said Pamela Fields, executive director of The Arc of Meriden-Wallingford. “Other agencies were asking us about utilizing technology, and we realized that although there are technology centers throughout Connecticut, they do not build capacity in the providers to learn and utilize the technology.”
As an example, Fields cited the case of a man living in a group home that cost the state $110,000 a year. Through technology, the man was able to move into his own apartment in Meriden, which costs $40,000 a year.
“The savings can be quite substantial,” she said. “The current system is so costly. It’s so human resource dependent. We can do better for people. ... They feel empowered.”
Greater use of technology—and training service workers on it—will become increasingly important as baby boomers retire, Fields said.
“That’s a huge piece in being able to keep all of us at home,” she said.
Due to space constraints, seminars involving large numbers of people are being held at public places like libraries, center organizers say. A learning lab on Caption Telephone, or CapTel phones, which help people with hearing deficiencies, was held at the Meriden Public Library in late February.
Co-op members plan to hold at least one learning lab per month, Fields said. This subject of this month’s lab is medication management.
The center’s creation comes amid claims by nonprofit agencies that their ability to maintain services are under pressure from state budget reductions and increased competition for resources. Most of Connecticut’s health and human services are delivered by nonprofits through contacts with the state, according to Jeff Shaw, director of public policy for the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance. Yet some state agencies deliver similar services—and nonprofits say they can deliver top-quality service at lower cost while reducing pressure on state finances.
“Nonprofits are ready to be part of the solution, and the vast majority of voters trust us to do so,” Shaw wrote in a December editorial.
The Connecticut Community Provider Alliance held a January rally at the State Capitol in Hartford, saying privatizing some services for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill could save the state more than $1 billion over the next three years. Some labor unions, however, dispute that claim.
William Glasgall, director of the state and local programs at The Volcker Alliance, cited mixed results achieved in privatizing of prison services. The New York-based group, founded by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, studies state budget issues.
“That’s an issue that needs to be studied carefully to see if any savings are accompanied by accountability,” Glasgall said.