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Washroom sensors safeguard well-being at Island libraries, health facilities

Technology senses lack of movement and alerts staff
Vancouver Island Regional Library's Emily Mathews, assistant director for experience and engagement, and Jason McConnell, divisional manager of health and safety, see the benefits of washroom sensors at library branches.

Washroom sensors are working and will now be implemented at more Vancouver Island Regional Library branches and Island Health facilities.

The reverse-motion sensors monitor for medical emergencies, including toxic drug poisonings. The sensor is activated when someone enters the public washroom, passively monitoring for a lack of movement. If it detects an anomaly it alerts a dedicated mobile phone monitored by facility staff. The sensors do not contain any microphones or cameras.

Last year, Island Health conducted sensor trials at washrooms throughout the region including at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and the Comox Valley Nursing Centre and mental health and substance-use sites in Courtenay. Since then, trials have also launched at the Campbell River and District Hospital, the Campbell River mental health and substance-use Tyee office, and the Eric Martin Pavilion in Victoria. 

During the trials from August to December in 2023 on the central and north Island, there were 407 washroom checks based on sensor alerts that resulted in patients responding to let staff know they were all right, and five situations that led to staff responding to patients in distress.

At the end of last year, 10 sensors were installed at Nanaimo's Harbourfront Library because it is considered an "at-risk VIRL branch." Based on the effectiveness of the program at that library, additional sensors have been installed at other VIRL branches in Courtenay, Campbell River and Port Hardy. This was done with $50,000 in funding from an Island Health grant aimed at projects that "focus on improving mental well-being, building youth resilience and mitigating harms associated with the unregulated drug supply."

Emily Mathews, Vancouver Island Regional Library's assistant director for experience and engagement, said the sensors made monitoring of the washrooms much "simpler, safer and more effective."

“Washrooms in public libraries are some of the few, if not the only, public facilities left in many cities and towns that are freely accessible to all who need them, and there continues to be increasing pressure on their use," she said in a press release. "The sensors are helping to make those spaces not only easier to manage for staff but also safer for patrons."

More sensors are planned for washrooms at the Oceanside Health Unit in Parksville, Cowichan Valley Mental Health and Substance Use in Duncan, as well as the Harbour Supervised Consumption Service and Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

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