MOORHEAD — A local nonprofit is the only agency in Minnesota using a new program to keep its clients independent and safe while helping deal with a worker shortage in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.

Retired nurse Charlotte Jacobson is one of CCRI, Inc.'s many direct support professionals, and she spends a few hours a week working with 28-year-old Crystal Maanum, who now lives independently after living in a group setting with 24/7 supervision.

"Her self-confidence and self-esteem have improved," Jacobson explained.

Maanum is able to live on her own now because of new technology CCRI uses called Independent By Design. Staff members use an array of tools and sensors placed in a client's apartment to help ensure their safety, including an automated pillbox.

"It will automatically alert when it is their med time and you flip it over and it will dispense the meds for that time," said CCRI residential coordinator Tamara Peters.

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A system is in place to make sure clients show up for their jobs. A tool beneath their mattresses alerts the CCRI staff at the office if someone has overslept. Another sensor can be placed on a client's apartment door so staff know when the client has left for work and when they return.

"If someone works a 3 to 11 p.m. shift, we want to make sure they get home by 11:30," Peters explained. "This will verify they are getting home by the door opening."

Direct support professional Beth Dykema is the one often alerted if the sensor is catching something important. If something needs to be checked, she gets a call about the issue.

"We have a client and we monitor his door 24 hours a day because he has short-term memory loss, and so we want to know when he is going out," Dykema explained.

CCRI employs 600 people, and finding enough workers to fill positions is tough. Automation allows clients who can live independently without 24/7 care to be safe even without a staff member around.

Sensors above a client's stove or oven alert staff if something was left on. Magnetized sensors on drawers, cabinets, the front door and windows allow fewer staff members to more effectively monitor clients.

The technology is used for a handful of clients, though others still rely on 24/7 supervision. CCRI said the technology has saved taxpayers thousands of dollars this year because fewer workers are needed for those clients being monitored by the sensors.