According to the Census Bureau, the State of California continues to have the highest poverty rate in the country. About 7 million, or 18% of the state’s 40 million residents, are living in poverty. On top of that, the Public Policy Institute of California found that another 8 million are near the poverty level, with only one major expense away of becoming improverished. When you combine both estimates, about 15 million of our fellow neighbors are living in severe economic distress.
This striking research was all calculated before the corona virus pandemic. Now, with the flattening of the curve and most of the economy being shut down, many families have been adversely affected, including millions of jobs being lost.
The homeless crisis we had been seeing was just the tip of the iceberg.
Sadly, many more will become homeless due to the COVID-19 induced recession. As a result, the size of the high risk and vulnerable population just became significantly larger. With the pandemic, the risk of greater contagion is elevated given more becoming unsheltered, many of whom are the elderly and have pre-existing health concerns.
Homeless shelters lack the staff and resources to prevent COVID from spreading in high risk populations. Their infrastructure was never meant to support the large influx of new populations affected by the pandemic. Current technology solutions, such as thermal cameras, are too cost prohibitive with a price tag of $15,000 or more.
Our strategic partner, Illumination Foundation, is servicing 71 hospitals and 14 shelters, and ramping up to take care of up to 2,300 COVID at-risk patients with a focus on homeless individuals and the elderly, those at highest risk. They are working with local hospitals to redirect noncritical patients in order to unburden the local healthcare system. Varna's efforts directly benefit our neighbors under their care.
What it does
Our team develops technology-based enterprise solutions to onboard, screen and monitor the health of vulnerable homeless individuals, with an emphasis on the elderly. 80% of those who have died from COVID-19 virus are 65 and older. In elderly homeless populations, where individuals typically present with geriatric issues of those 15 years older than their actual age, this figure is expected to be significantly worse. Varna is being developed to protect this vulnerable population from COVID-19 and other contagious diseases. Varna is an out of the box sensor and mobile-based platform any emergency shelter operator can use to instantly start managing the influx of noncritical care patients from the street or local hospitals This will help hospitals focus on intensive care patients rather than patients who are not yet symptomatic. Varna focuses on four key areas:
Onboarding. Varna makes it easy for shelters to start gathering information in a way that limits risk to their staff and minimizes contact. There is a web-based app with an AI chatbot that any smartphone owner can use to start entering preliminary information en route to shelter sites. There is also the option to start a profile via text message for those without smartphones, and a chat bot will collect and store the relevant information. Our onboarding process also protects public health workers working at shelters by minimizing in person interactions in close proximity.
Screening. We use best-in-class screening questions applied by hospitals, delivered via mobile phones to quickly identify symptomatic patients and direct them to (1) be separated and triaged by onsite nurses (2) placed in individual rooms if needed, and (3) taken to the hospital if exhibiting severe symptoms. This helps lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 upon arrival. Varna leverages AI detectors we have developed on low cost thermal cameras so shelters can screen and record temperature readings to note trends over time and proactively monitor high risk patients, immediately sending nurse and staff notifications if someone's temperature is above normal so they can get the proper care.
Monitoring. In addition, we issue a low-cost, small smart chest band that monitors temperature in real time and is linked to individual client accounts so shelter staff can proactively identify any spikes in temperature and take measures to care for the individual's symptoms. For this temperature wearable device we are partnering with a 10 year old German R&D company that initial tests show promise in early detection of a COVID fever, they also work with the UN and Red Cross. They are looking to extend their research to a larger, more diverse population and study the use in US based vulnerable populations. In addition, we working with Aruba and an AI wifi analytics company to do precision contact tracing at two sites in order to have an end to end, comprehensive view of symptom management and infection containment.
How we built it
We did a weekend series of design thinking workshops to get started and then jumped into coding.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
The team pulled together and made a product out of scratch in less than a week!
What's next for Varna
We'll be launching test pilots with our strategic partner, Illumination Foundation, with the goal of rolling out this technology across 14 sites and the up to 2,300 COVID at risk clients they support. We are raising $50,000 so we can get the protoype production ready in order to start supporting our neighbors as quickly as possible.
Long term, we see this expanding into supporting local small businesses who will likely have occupancy caps and recommended fever screenings for entry into stores. We want to quickly make the technology affordable for all and scale this solution across entire cities.