A Salmon Arm company wants to safely reconnect families with loved ones in care facilities where visitations are restricted due to COVID-19.
According to a Nov. 3, 2020 news release from the office of B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackeznie, a recent provincewide survey found visitation restrictions at long-term care and assisted living homes, though helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, are still having negative health impacts on residents.
“When we started visit restrictions, the goal was to ensure residents in long-term care and assisted living were kept safe from COVID-19,” writes Mackenzie in her report on the survey. “Eight months later, we need to ask the question: What are we keeping them safe for if it is not to enjoy the time they have left with the ones they love?”
George Rithaler, business development manager at ADAM Integrated Industries, shared similar thoughts while reflecting on concerns that led the Salmon Arm company to development Sentinel Cottage, a portable, self-contained, mobility friendly, high-tech visitation room that can be easily set up at care facilities.
“We’ve heard story after story about the problems they’re running into,” said Rithaler. “I have to admit, for most of us here, it started off as a project we needed to put in place and now it’s a very passionate undertaking that we want to see happen as quickly as possible so many seniors can benefit from this.”
As Rithaler explained, ADAM’s president Colin McMaster was out grabbing coffee sometime toward the end of August 2020 when he heard a news report regarding the impact pandemic lockdown restrictions were having on seniors in care facilities. Inspired to come up with a solution, he and staff began working out what that solution might look like.
“Basically, at the end of the day, we had kind of worked out a go-plan,” said Rithaler. “The next day we were already in the process of building a wood mock-up so we could get a conceptual feel of what we needed to design… And from there it basically progressed on an expedited basis, and we rolled out our prototype last Wednesday (Oct. 28).”
Despite the relatively short time frame, the company developed what Rithaler described as a durable metal structure with a comfortable, cottage-like feel that employs various technologies and provides ample space so more than one person at a time can visit with loved ones.
The building has two separate entries, with the inside divided by a wall-to-wall Plexiglas panel. A touchless audio system allows for a natural-feeling conversation experience.
Included in the glass panel are two specially designed gloves that allow for safe physical contact.
“We felt that… loved ones need to be recognized in more than just sight,” said Rithaler. “They need to have some sort of touch. But the question is, how do you do that and maintain a safe bubble? So our solution was, let’s provide this perfect environment and let’s allow physical contact within a safe manner.”
Though seniors care was a key driver behind Sentinel Cottage’s development, Rithaler said it could easily be put into use at hospitals, prisons and other facilities.
While the prototype has been well received so far by those who have viewed it, Rithaler said the challenge now is getting the attention of provincial governments and those in the best position to get the Sentinel Cottage to care facilities, where it can reopen doors to loved ones shut in by the ongoing pandemic.
“We’ve put a lot of our own research into what we needed to do to make it work, to make it viable for the application, and it’s really brought us deeply into this particular issue about the seniors, the issues that they’re dealing with and their families,” said Rithaler. “One of the big things we’re hearing, of course, is they need this now… But it takes time to get this out. We just can’t get an order from a client and have it produced tomorrow. This is a fairly significant undertaking in terms of everything that goes into this building. It’s a very complex building.”
Rithaler noted materials and products from 35 other companies go into the making of the Sentinel Cottage, and if it were to go into production where they were putting out one per day, ADAM would likely be doubling its staffing.
“The way we look at it, 35 companies get to keep working, it keeps the economy moving forward,” said Rithaler.