Pandemic is increasing inactivity among older adults, creating vulnerability to fall injuries. Main Line Health inventor seeks to address issue with fall-prevention device

General Wellness
Senior Health
Lankenau Medical Center

Issue is serious challenge for North American hospitals, which have an estimated 1 million falls annually

The pandemic has reduced the ability of older adults to engage in daily activities, reducing physical conditioning and leaving them more fall-prone. Main Line Health executive Jeshahnton Essex, MBA, MSHA, has invented a device aimed at addressing the issue by reducing the chance of falls occurring in the hospital.

He created the Essex Patient Privacy Mate, for which Main Line Health has filed a patent application. It allows patients to be supervised in the bathroom while maintaining their privacy. The device consists of two main components: (1) a lightweight sensor bar that detects any attempt by the patient to get up from the toilet and walk back to bed unsupervised and (2) an adjustable privacy screen.

Essex didn’t need to see the studies to know a significant number of patients are injured by falls during hospital stays.

“For years, as I sit there in meetings and as I round the halls with nurses, I hear about it and know there must be a better way to prevent harm from falls,” said Essex, who is vice president of operations at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Main Line Health, which has System Magnet® designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center—widely accepted as the nation’s gold standard—has achieved among the nation’s highest performance metrics on fall reduction.

In one key example, the 2021 first-quarter rate for its largest hospital, Lankenau Medical Center, was 1.35 falls per 1,000 patient days—40% lower on average even than other Magnet hospitals.

Essex also knows a large percentage of falls happen when patients stand up from the toilet and head back to bed—despite a Main Line Health safety protocol requiring staff members to accompany them to the bathroom unless the patient refuses. “How do you tell staff members they have to keep their eyes on a patient using the toilet at all times, especially when the patient adamantly demands privacy?” Essex asked. “I wouldn’t want to be watched, either.”

Essex’s invention is part of an initiative by Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), part of Main Line Health, to develop and commercialize devices invented by health system workers for use in hospital settings. Lankenau Ventures was established last year as a joint venture that includes LIMR; L2C Partners of Wynnewood, LIMR’s intellectual property manager; and Early Charm Ventures of Baltimore, an engineering-oriented invention shop, to bring such new devices to market.

Essex’s invention is not the only Main Line Health device aimed at reducing fall injuries for which the health system is seeking a patent. Barbara Wadsworth, the health system’s chief operating officer, has invented a portable airbag/cushion-deployment device with a sensor that would detect if a patient is falling. The compact device could be mounted or stabilized in the bathroom or other high-risk areas for falls.

Injuries and death due to falls are a serious challenge to every health system. An estimated 1 million falls occur in North American hospitals annually. They also represent a high cost. Patients who sustain a fall in the hospital incur $13,000 in additional costs on average, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Essex strived to create an invention that achieves a difficult balance, meeting regulations that prohibit restraining a patient unless necessary yet posing enough of a barrier to keep them from walking away from the toilet. The sensor bar, which would set off an alarm, is designed to prevent patients from walking away easily while addressing the restraint concern by being collapsible. Also, the patient’s head and shoulders are visible to others, but he or she has privacy where it counts. The screen is made from easy-to-clean, durable material or disposable materials for easy replacement.

Merle Gilmore, founder and CEO of L2C Partners, laid the foundation for Essex’s and other inventions by linking with George Prendergast, CEO and president of LIMR, and disseminating information throughout Main Line Health. Amy Callahan, system director, magnet and professional excellence for the health system, oversees its falls committee. She heard about the opportunities for inventors and persuaded Essex to contact Gilmore.

“Every time I am in an operations meeting, I hear about another opportunity to use a device like this one,” Essex said. “I’m so happy to be moving toward development.”

LIMR, working with L2C Partners of Wynnewood, seeks to bring the Essex Patient Privacy Mate as well as other medical technologies into society. See here to view the full list of LIMR-developed IP and technologies available for licensing posted on the LIMR website.