Student Turned Her Ruined Summer Plans Into a Way to Help Isolating Seniors Connect With Doctors
By Good News Network
"A cancelled internship turned into a big opportunity for one young woman to help her whole state.
Just a few months ago, the Emory University student, like the rest of us, was gearing up for the summer when COVID-19 ruined her plans.
'After receiving countless emails about canceled internships, I had just about concluded that I would be spending my summer twiddling my thumbs,' said Lia Rubel from her home in Barre, Vermont, a blue-collar town of about 10,000.
That’s when she got a call from a friend about a new initiative organized by some Yale University students who saw a great need—a need that escalated to urgent in the era of coronavirus. People were still in need of medical care but couldn’t leave their homes for fear of spreading or contracting the virus, especially seniors, who are more vulnerable.
That’s why, in March, Telehealth Access for Seniors was born: to get communications technology, such as a smartphone or tablet computer, to elderly patients who lack and very much need it.
'It’s more than just a device. It’s a vital connectivity tool and it could save someone’s life,' says Rubel, 18, who joined the initiative in March as the lead for Vermont. “It just hurt my heart that they don’t have that privilege and they can’t connect to friends and families. They can’t even connect to their doctors.”
But many people don’t have access to these services for lack of technology, and the problem is worse in Vermont, where about 19 percent of the population is over 65 (versus 15 percent for the rest of the US) and where 10 percent of residents don’t have access to broadband but they do have access to cellular service.
'If they’re still self-quarantining, it’s really important for mental health,' says Rubel. “We include with the devices some suggestions to download wellness apps. And they [patients] use the devices to FaceTime family to stay connected.”
Just providing a way for an elderly person to have a 'face-to-face' conversation with a loved one in an era of social distancing can be lifesaving. Feeling lonely leads to a 26 percent increase in mortality rate, according to a recent meta-study of 3.4 million people.
Telehealth Access for Seniors offers a free remote phone and email tech support team so that help is always available. The organization also provides instructions on how to set up devices.
'The pandemic has opened our eyes to how important it is to have digital tools and the importance of equipping our seniors with these devices,' says Rubel."
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