By Theo Bickel, ICHS
FOR NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Grace Chen picks up an electronic tablet that’s been left at a donor’s doorstep and returns to her car. Later, it will be cleaned and wiped for a fresh start.
For the past three months, Chen and Katie Li, university students and organizers of “Telehealth Access for Seniors,” have been delivering donated electronic devices to Seattle-area medical clinics. The tablets and smartphones they collect are used to connect seniors to telehealth services.
“When the pandemic hit, we recognized that telehealth was going to be needed and appointments would transition online,” said Chen. “People often have outdated smart devices laying around that they no longer need. We wanted to get these devices to people who do need them.”
Older adults often feel uncomfortable with technology or with getting help to use it. Many devices are costly for low-income seniors. The resulting digital divide is life-threatening as people stay home to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Patients without the means to access telehealth services may stop seeing their doctor, increasing the chance of illness and serious health complications.
International Community Health Services (ICHS) was Li and Chen’s first recipient, accepting a donation of 33 tablets and smartphones on June 28. Li formerly volunteered at the nonprofit health center during high school. A third-generation Chinese American, some of her family members received care there. She liked how they felt welcomed and understood.
To best serve patients, ICHS has worked to increase its telehealth capacity and help patients overcome hurdles. Many ICHS patients are low-income immigrants or refugees, and more than half need English-language assistance. Because older people are at greater risk during the pandemic, Li and Chen’s donation has been especially welcomed.
“Patient care is all about breaking down barriers,” said Kannie Chim, ICHS PACE medical director. The ICHS PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) program is a model of care that helps seniors live independently in their community.
“PACE program participants who live alone at this time are especially vulnerable,” Chim added. “These telehealth devices will be put to good use.”
“They see a familiar face and they light up”
Raymond He, resident service specialist at ICHS Legacy House, has adapted to many changes since the assisted living facility closed to visitors on March 9. The abrupt end of family visits, communal meals, and social activities was hard on residents. During the first week of lockdown, He set up a laptop in a conference room so they could hold video chats with family members.
Many calls later, He and his colleagues have expanded the video calls to include telehealth appointments. From managing chronic conditions to checking in on mental health and feelings of isolation, these appointments have been a key part of the facility’s caregiving.
For many residents, this has been the first time they have video called or used smart devices. Reviews have been positive. “They see a familiar face and they light up,” said He.
More to come
Chen was attending Yale University in February when news came of the coronavirus outbreak near her home in Bellevue. By March, Yale had closed its campus and Chen began adjusting to a school year disrupted.
A few classmates began a donation drive of used tablets and smartphones for local hospitals in Florida and Connecticut. When Chen got involved in May, she volunteered to expand the organization’s efforts to Washington state. Li, her friend from high school, got involved a few weeks later. The student-led group, Telehealth Access for Seniors, is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit led entirely by student volunteers across 26 states. It has coordinated over 1,250 device donations to medical clinics and hospitals, raised more than $50,000, developed resource guides in multiple languages, and set up a tech support line.
Chen and Li continue to solicit donations of tablets and smartphones in the Seattle area. Just recently, Chen visited the same neighborhood three times for different donations.
“One man offered to donate an old Android tablet in May,” she said. “He was excited about our cause and told his neighbors. Two more people have since offered to donate devices.”
In early August, they are planning to follow up with a second delivery of devices to ICHS, joined by even more volunteers.
To learn more about Telehealth Access for Seniors, visit telehealthforseniors.org.
For more questions, email Grace Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org.