Jayiesh (Jay) Singh was 15 years old when he started volunteering at the long-term care facility where his mother worked. “I got a lot of fulfillment out of it, but I also saw the human side of aging,” he says.
In particular, Singh saw the frustrations facing older adults who require help getting in and out of a bed or chair. “It really robs people of their independence. You can’t get food when you want to eat. You can’t go to the washroom when you want to go. You’re dependent on caregivers who are extremely stretched for time.”
Patient transfers are time-consuming and physically demanding. Moving a resident to or from a bed can take several minutes and require several staff members. And with the COVID-19 crisis, many facilities are struggling more than ever with staffing levels.
“Personal support workers (PSWs) do transfers day in and day out. It’s back-breaking work that takes a very negative physical toll, from repetitive strain injuries to dislocations.”
People being transferred also risk injury; falls and skin tears are common. In North America, hospitals spend $18-billion a year dealing with transfer-related injuries to staff and patients.
Existing mechanical lifts are large and operate like a crane. “Basically we are treating people like a pile of weight. It’s so undignified.”
Now 33, Singh has put his robotics background to use developing a technological solution. In 2018, he remortgaged his home and founded a company, Able Innovations, to get a product to market.
With help from AGE-WELL, Able Innovations now has a working prototype of their automated lateral transfer device. The DELTA Platform uses a conveyor belt to “roll” its transfer platform under the person being lifted in a non-intrusive manner.
“It’s a very compact platform that can roll underneath you in a safe way, lift you up and over to the next surface. With the DELTA Platform, just one caregiver can make a transfer without exerting any physical effort.” The system is hands-free and self-disinfecting.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Singh believes that facilities need such devices more than ever to protect frontline staff.
And for patients, tests done with the device show “there are very few external forces being applied to the body and the forces that are exerted are believed to be within safe tolerances for human skin.”
Able Innovations is looking to accelerate the development of the device. The company is raising its first round of investment and has a lead investor.
“It would be amazing,” says Dr. Maurine Parzen, a registered nurse and professor at the Mohawk College of Applied Arts & Technology Faculty of Nursing. “It will decrease the amount of time and human resources required to do the transfers that need to be done. Absolutely, it would benefit nurses and benefit patients.”
It’s a view echoed by 82-year-old Bill Jarvis, a long-term care resident who suffered a stroke ten years ago. “I’m completely reliant on the support staff to transfer me. Anything that will help me get more of my independence back is really, really important to me.”
Able Innovations is first targeting the institutional market, with a version for home use planned further down the line. One major design challenge has been finding a sturdy, sanitary material that is safe for delicate skin. That’s where AGE-WELL has stepped up, with a $40,000 grant that connected the company with Dr. Bruce Wallace, executive director of the AGE-WELL SAM3 national innovation hub, a joint initiative with Carleton University and Bruyère Research Institute.
Professor Wallace has developed a mannequin equipped with sensors that can measure the pulling or pushing forces on skin exerted by the DELTA prototype. The ‘smart’ mannequin is being used to perfect the patient transfer system.
“From the moment we were introduced, we wanted to work together,” says Singh.
“AGE-WELL really wants everybody to age gracefully and happily through whatever means possible. And it’s extremely important for us to have that network of individuals with a similar mission to ours.”
Singh intends to have a product ready for market in early 2021. Meanwhile, feedback during the testing phase has been positive – from health care staff, people who require care, and their family members.
“Their eyes light up,” Singh says. “When they see what we’re doing, it really, really gives them hope.”
- Bill Jarvis (left), a long-term care resident and Jayiesh (Jay) Singh (right), founder of Able Innovations.
- With the DELTA Platform, just one caregiver can make a transfer without exerting any physical effort.
- The Able Innovations team