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St. John telesitter

House Manager Melanie Glaze, left, and Linda Baird, director of nursing, show off one of PeaceHealth St. John's new telesitter cameras  that help monitor at-risk patients. 

An extra set of eyes is looking after patients at St. John Medical Center, but they’re not human.

The hospital launched the “AvaSys Telesitter” patient observation and communication system on Oct. 4. Melanie Glaze, house manager, said Monday that the system is not a substitute for nurses.

“It frees up staff to be on the floor and gives them the opportunity to be physically present for more patients for more time,” Glaze said.

The system includes 12 roving camera units that can be stationed anywhere in the hospital except the behavioral health unit. The telesitter is mostly used for dementia patients, Glaze said. A specially-trained certified nursing assistant (CNA) monitors all the patients 24/7 from an office in the hospital

The cameras are always on unless the privacy mode is activated. The system has audio capability, but technicians typically use it only when talking to someone in the room. The system doesn’t record.

“It’s going great,” said Cori Hulings, patient telesitter technician, of the system’s first month. “I’ve saved numerous patients from falling.”

Hulings said she speaks to patients through the system if she sees them trying to get up when they shouldn’t or if they seem to need help. The technicians can call a staff member into the patient’s room to help or activate an alarm.

The system also includes a recorded announcement activated by the technician that tells patients not to get up. Glaze said that for many patients with dementia, the telesitter is a way to remind them of directions they may have forgotten.

Glaze said the recorded announcements are English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese. The system also has pre-recorded messages in each language so the technician can communicate with the patient even if they don’t speak the same language.

The nurse decides whether a patient should have the telesitter in his or her room. Chief Nursing Officer Debbie Lutman said the system is flexible and some patients don’t need extra monitoring for the whole day.

Besides patients with dementia, the system has also been used for those having a bad reaction to medication or who have a high risk of falling.

The department with the most telesitters fluctuates, as well as the number of telesitters in use. Over the past month, the number of telesitters in use at one time has ranged from two to 12, Glaze said. When staff identify a 13th patient who would benefit from the telesitter, Glaze or another supervisor help decide whether to wait until a patient doesn’t need a telesitter anymore or if it would be more beneficial to move it from one patient to another.

The system can also be a comfort to family members concerned about leaving a loved one in the hospital, Glaze said.

“This gives them peace of mind knowing there’s extra monitoring going on,” she said.

A nurse or other caregiver can ask for privacy mode, either muting the audio, taking away the video or both. A light on the telesitter will switch off when privacy mode is in place. The telesitter operator will check with the caregiver before switching out of privacy mode.

Lutman said St. John was the first of PeaceHealth’s 10 hospitals to start using the $155,000-system. PeaceHealth decided to purchase the telesitter system because of its success at other hospitals across the country, she said.

Telesitter technician positions were filled by CNAs already employed at the hospital, Glaze said. About 30 people are trained to use the system but there are only six full-time shifts. The telesitter doesn’t affect the number of caregivers on the floor, Glaze said, but allows staff to move around more.

Glaze said she has gotten both positive and constructive comments about the system from hospital staff. Teaching staff the role of the telesitter technician and how best to communicate with them is a work in progress, she said.

“I’m very glad as a hospital we’ve invested in it,” Glaze said. “

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