New program launched to help seniors who are currently isolated during COVID-19 outbreak

New program launched to help seniors who are currently isolated during COVID-19 outbreak

Photo Credits: KIYOMI WATSON / AGGIE

Volunteers check in regularly with YHAA Phone Friends for Seniors participants

The Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance recently launched “YHAA Phone Friends for Seniors,” a new program to help seniors who are isolated at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program aims to connect seniors with resources they may need, as well as reduce loneliness and isolation. 

Sheila Allen, the executive director of the Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance (YHAA), explained the impact that COVID-19 has on seniors via email. 

“Because seniors are at high risk of suffering more effects if they are infected by the COVID-19 virus, public health officials recommend that seniors stay home and avoid going to places where public interaction occurs,” Allen said. “Even with ‘senior hours’ established by some of our local markets and pharmacies to make it safer for them to shop, many seniors can’t easily get groceries and [get] prescribed medications.”

As a result, seniors may start to experience loneliness, depression and anxiety, Allen said. 

To help, volunteers and seniors will be matched as “phone friends.” Seniors can participate in the program by signing up to receive calls or by being identified by their families, friends or YHAA’s partner agencies. The volunteers will check in and socialize daily with the program’s participants, as well as “ensure that their senior friend has the food and medicine they need,” according to YHAA’s website. Additionally, to ensure the safety of seniors, YHAA will help seniors access home deliveries for medication and food. 

“The YHAA Phone Friends for Seniors program will operate until the COVID-19 shelter in place guidance is lifted, and beyond if seniors have an ongoing desire for the social connections that will be created with phone friends,” read a press release from YHAA. 

The idea for the program originated when the shelter-in-place order for those over the age of 65 was implemented on March 15. The YHAA Board of Directors held a meeting to discuss what could be done to help people who may be feeling isolated, while continuing to support the stay-at-home order. 

“We received input from our Collaboration Committee of over 90 providers of services for older adults in Yolo County as to what they saw would be the greatest impact,” Allen said via email. “While the Yolo Food Bank and Meals on Wheels was addressing access to food we know that social isolation has many physical and mental health impacts. We also wanted an immediate community based response.”

Allen also noted that there has been “an unmet need […] to digital access for seniors.” Despite social gatherings and possibly even medical appointments being moved to an online format, seniors may not have internet access, a computer or knowledge about how to utilize their devices. 

“This is the next step we are looking at addressing through grants, donations and community involvement,” Allen said via email. “Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance would like to identify low cost internet and tablets and then community members to serve as digital buddies to assist [the seniors] getting connected.”

The general public will also be able to help in the execution of the program.

“Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance will gladly accept more volunteer callers and referrals for people to receive calls,” Allen said via email. “Moving forward we may have additional need for over the phone tech support for seniors. As a non-profit organization, we accept donations to support our work.”

The program has received positive feedback from both its participants and volunteers, with some seniors saying the call has been “the highlight of their day.”

Those who are interested in volunteering can do so by signing up online through YHAA’s website or calling them. Volunteers will receive materials for orientation via email, alongside with a quick phone interview. After this, volunteers will be matched with seniors from their towns to connect with.

Volunteers will initially call every day, but as the friendships develop, they can decide what is best. Volunteers will also be provided with questions and a sample script during orientation, as well as an updated weekly list of medicine and food home delivery options. YHAA can also help to solve and provide access to additional issues, needs and services.

Despite having to physically social distance, such programs help bring people closer together.

“We are finding that the program is bringing community members together during a time when we have to physically be apart,” Allen said via email. “There is a real value to making human connections for both the senior and the volunteer.”

Written by: Shraddha Jhingan — city@theaggie.org