The connection of a simple conversation has the potential to make a long-lasting impact, especially for those who may be struggling with social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s something Jim*, a 70-year-old veteran who lives alone, has experienced firsthand. During the pandemic, the most interaction he has with others is during his doctor visits.
While sitting in the waiting room one day, Jim saw a flyer that said: “You’ve Got a Friend.” It encouraged him to call Seniors in Service to learn more about increasing his interaction with others.
Seniors in Service, located in Tampa, Florida, connects volunteers with at-risk seniors and veterans with disabilities through programs and services to help meet their mental and physical needs.
The nonprofit received a $150,000 UnitedHealthcare grant to expand their telephone reassurance program, TelePals, which helps reduce social isolation for seniors through regular phone conversations. The program became a critical service during COVID-19.
Decreased social interaction during the pandemic is a growing concern for older adults who may not be able to spend time with others or leave their home as often. Research shows loneliness and a lack of social engagement is linked to adverse impacts on mental health and may lead to potentially serious physical health concerns.
“While loneliness jeopardizes physical and mental health, connection is the cure,” said Robin Ingles, the CEO of Seniors in Service. “Reaching out might be difficult these days, but our organization has helped with UnitedHealthcare’s generous funding of TelePals.”
The TelePals program helps ensure seniors who may be isolated continue to safely receive the support they need during COVID-19. Trained volunteers, many who are seniors themselves, make regularly scheduled phone calls to clients, like Jim. The grant helps the organization hire and train additional staff to help meet the needs of surrounding communities like Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas.
“With UnitedHealthcare’s support, we were able to shift our in-home senior companion services to TelePals telephone reassurance, while expanding to serve the growing number of seniors who felt lonely and scared,” Robin said. “Our partnership with UnitedHealthcare has enabled us to implement innovations that will continue during COVID-19 and beyond.”
Seniors in Service works with hospitals and medical clinics to engage volunteers with basic health care knowledge. In addition to ongoing conversation, they provide clients with resources to help self-manage their health. The funding is expected to help reduce social isolation and provide support to 300 individuals.
“Reaching out to people with just friendly conversation is easy – anyone can do it,” Robin said. “TelePals can make a vital difference in someone’s life.”
Click here to learn more about volunteering or referring a client for Telepals.
*Names have been changed to ensure privacy.