With a higher risk of illness and coronavirus cases still on the rise, many older adults in North Carolina are still stuck at home, sometimes without the technology that could help keep them connected with friends, family — and their health care providers.
It's something that Brooke Chow, incoming UNC first-year and North Carolina lead for TeleHealth Access for Seniors, wants to help remedy.
Chow said her brother works in a hospital and brought up the disconnect from virtual patients to their caregivers.
“It all started when we noticed that a lot of military veterans and patients were not able to travel to medical facilities and hospitals anymore because of coronavirus,” Chow said. “Obviously one issue with this is a lot of people may not have access to a camera enabled device to video call their doctors.”
After a quick Google search, she found TeleHealth Access for Seniors, a501(c)(3)nonprofit started by high school and college students, that aims to connect senior and low-income patients with doctors through smartphones, laptops and tablets.
Spanning 26 states, TeleHealth Access for Seniors has donated over 1,000 devices and is partnered with 75 clinics, according to its website. Monetary donations are used to buy chargers and Amazon Fire tablets, Chow said.
Chow recently donated five tablets to the Durham Veterans Affairs Health Care System’s Community Living Center. Erica Dickens, a creative arts therapist at the Durham VA, received the tablets.
“This is a great opportunity to connect technology even more with our existing programs,” Dickens said. “The tablets allow for us to continue our services with quarantine precautions.”
The Durham VA has had tablet donations from Telehealth Access for Seniors as well as other organizations, Dickens said. The tablets will be used in individual and group settings to provide recreational therapy and will allow for veterans to connect with their families for virtual visits.
Dickens said the Durham VA is following infection control measures to safely provide the tablets, but right now, the center does not have enough tablets for each veteran in the unit.
“Prior to COVID-19, we had some tablets we were able to use with some veterans,” Dickens said. “During COVID-19, the need for tablets has increased. We are very appreciative for this one-time donation.”
Dickens said the tablets are individualized, so different apps are downloaded for each veteran’s interests and to address any functional goals.
“We pass out tablets as they’re needed,” Dickens said. “We complete an assessment on each veteran and determine if the tablet is appropriate for them. Then they receive proper education on how to use it.”
Beverly Shuford, communications specialist for Orange County, said one of the biggest changes in the lives of seniors during the pandemic has been connectivity. The two senior centers in Orange County are closed, Shuford said, though some programs have been modified to accommodate the pandemic.
“We are still active and working,” Shuford said. “What we do, others can do, by making connections and checking in on people.”
A lot of senior residents are socially isolated this summer, she said, so it's important to check in on the older adults in your life.
“It’s good if they get phone calls, so call your neighbor, call your grandparents and check in on your friends,” Shuford said. “We’re doing that with our telephone reassurance, but other folks can do it too. It’s really important, especially for those who do not have connectivity through the internet and technology. Those isolated folks really need us to reach out and look for them.”
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