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Chris Collins waited his whole life to live alone and, for the past two years, has enjoyed every moment of it.
A peaceful, quiet residence allows him to rest and recuperate from those never-stop-moving shifts prepping food at Berardi’s Family Kitchen in Sandusky.
It also means, during some rare downtime, Collins can tinker with a model train set in his garage or watch movies from his living room.
“I love it,” Collins said.
While he doesn’t have roommates, a group of about 20 people — who have never actually stepped foot in his Pemington Place abode — are Collins’ frequent house guests.
They monitor his activities from afar and occasionally pop up on a TV screen.
Employees at Indiana-based Rest Assured keep tabs on Collins to ensure he can maintain his independency.
Collins represents the only resident in Erie County to partake in a relatively new state initiative called remote monitoring. About 170 others across Ohio also receive similar services.
Anyone with a developmental disability who obtains some sort of assistance from a county board agency is eligible for remote monitoring.
In Collins’ case, he’s diagnosed with fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition causing learning and cognitive impairment. He’s affiliated with the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities and works directly with Jessica Sowder, a service and support administrator.
The system works similar to iPhone’s FaceTime app: Three primary technological functions alert monitors, or virtual caretakers, such as at Rest Assured, of what’s happening to an individual with disabilities during a crisis or some other nonemergency situation:
• Crisis No. 1: Sensors situated in strategic locations throughout a domicile can detect when a danger arises, from an injury to a medical-induced incident
• Crisis No. 2: Cameras installed around the home can ensure those neither welcomed, say salespeople, nor allowed, including intruders, stay away.
• Nonemergency: At any time, a person can activate a monitor inside the home — in Collins’ case, it’s located in his kitchen — and speak with virtual caretakers, who can remind the client about completing important daily tasks. They range, based on a person’s preferences, and could involve waking someone up to take medication.
If a threat does exist, the virtual caretakers can notify authorities, including police or Collins’ parents, Howard and Carol, for help.
“Just the other day, Chris didn’t get up to go to work. They called him three times,” Howard said. “So then they called us, and we called Chris to see what was up. He didn’t answer. So we drove over to his house.”
Luckily for everyone involved, Chris just needed a few extra moments of shuteye.
“I was tired,” Chris said. “I didn’t want to get up.”
But the situation played out perfectly had a disaster occurred.
“There are a lot of safeguards, and that’s what great about this,” Howard said.
Support for independency
Remote monitoring, above all else, aims to make adults with developmental disabilities establish and maintain an independent lifestyle. Without remote monitoring, individuals like Collins can’t live on their own, whether because of physical or fiscal limitations.
“We are using technology to improve services for folks that are served by our system,” said John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.
About a year ago, the department received a $500,000 grant authorized by state Gov. John Kasich.
The money, distributed to county board agencies who serve quallifying individuals, could equip upward of 600 state residents with remote monitoring systems by late 2018.
A digital component also saves statewide taxpayers money. To live alone, the average remote monitoring recipient would spend about $150,000 for mostly an aide providing help for several hours each day.
“This is not about eliminating jobs for direct service staff,” Martin said. “It’s a way of augmenting it and supporting it. We care mostly about continuing to provide a quality service. The individual feels a lot more freedom by having this technology. And then there is that assurance that, if you need something, someone can be there and make a connection with you.”
Counting Collins, state officials said they have seen a number of success stories with this program.
“For some people, the use of remote monitoring services and technology has been a game changer,” said Marc Tassé, an Ohio State University professor in the psychology and psychiatry departments.
Tassé and his colleagues interview adults with developmental disabilities using the remote monitoring program.
“It has helped some people to live a life with more independence and autonomy all the while maintaining their sense of safety and reducing their reliance on always having a paid staff in their home,” Tassé said.
Collins can attest to that.
“I’m just really happy with everything,” Collins said.
This article has been reproduced for educational purposes only and appeared in the Sandusky Register. The original story can be found at: http://www.sanduskyregister.com/story/201709270031
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