In response to the coronavirus outbreak, high school and college students around the state have been volunteering for a student-founded nonprofit called Telehealth Access for Seniors. The 501(c)(3) organization collects smart devices and donates them to elderly patients so they can connect with their doctors via telehealth.
Telehealth, or telemedicine, is health services offered through an online, audio-visual platform. Most medical practices have switched from in-person appointments to video chat consultations to limit the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, millions of elderly Americans cannot afford the camera-enabled devices necessary to attend the appointments and struggle to receive care for chronic conditions such as diabetes. Without proper care, these chronic conditions can worsen to the point of hospitalization and put elderly patients at risk of death and disability.
Seeing a problem, a group of Yale students initially launched the national nonprofit in early March with the aim to provide smartphones and tablets for elderly and low-income communities. These vital telehealth tools help the seniors receive care and stay connected to loved ones to alleviate anxiety during the pandemic. Additionally, the nonprofit provides free virtual tech support and print-out guides that explain how to set up the devices, use Facetime to connect with friends and family, and download various telehealth apps like MyChart.
The organization has since expanded to over 175 college and high-school-aged volunteers in 26 states. Their efforts have resulted in a collective impact of 825 devices donated to 55 medical practices across the country.
The group also established a GoFundMe to cover chargers, shipping costs, and additional tablets and has raised $38,000 so far.
Lia Rubel, a Spaulding High School graduate, is leading the efforts in Vermont and is working alongside volunteers Zoe MacDonald (Barre), Eliza Mabey (South Royalton), Justin Lee (Essex), Erica Paton (Burlington), Mimi Hsu (Burlington), Thea Pappas (Burlington), and Gavin Schaaf (Williston) to support patients at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction. To spread the word, volunteers use social media and other platforms like Front Porch Forum. Rubel has also spoken to seven Rotary clubs. Once a volunteer receives a donation, they wipe the device clean of personal data and sanitize it before sending it to the medical center. The Vermont team has dropped off 24 devices at the hospital thus far but hopes to donate at least 76 more throughout the summer.
Anyone interested in donating a spare device or charger or making a monetary contribution can visit telehealthforseniors.org.