During the COVID-19 pandemic communities have been struggling with how to support vulnerable members in their neighbourhoods, especially their seniors who are most likely to be impacted.
"I am delighted to have the service. There is a lady (volunteer) that looks after me., she is exceptionally good. She tries her best within reason to get me the grocery that I ask for. As you know,there are some stuff which are not in the grocery store but she does her best. It has helped me a lot. Otherwise, I would go with a taxi. Nowadays I don’t want to even go in a taxi. Besides, I can’t afford the taxi." said Betty*
*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect individual privacy.
Archway Community Services in Abbotsford, BC has introduced a new program that is intended to do just that, Mobile Seniors Outreach. This unique and creative program has recently been introduced specifically to support the essential needs of isolated older adults age 65+.
Mobile Seniors Outreach (MSO) is a window of support where seniors may make calls for services and to get information about issues they are currently facing when isolated in their homes.
Mobile Seniors Outreach provides the following assistance:
Support with grocery shopping: Grocery stores are currently experiencing extremely high web traffic which has increased demand for online shopping. An option is to have volunteers do the grocery shopping on behalf of the client. The grocery shopping may be done by the volunteers in person or they may shop online on behalf of the senior.
Over-the phone prescription refills /setting up prescription delivery: Isolated seniors who require medication are helped by being referred to pharmacies that provide delivery services. When these are not available, volunteers may pick up the prescriptions and deliver to the senior. This option requires that the senior arrange, in advance with the pharmacy, permission for the volunteer to pick up the prescription.
Scheduling / rescheduling appointments: Currently many healthcare/service providers discourage routine visits and see emergency patients only. MSO assists seniors in following up on their appointments and, when necessary, make arrangements to schedule/reschedule future appointments. Seniors are also supported with their medical appointments by having their previously scheduled appointments confirmed for them.
Support setting up online banking: With many banks/credit unions branches currently closed and with physical distancing measures in place, seniors can be supported with assistance in setting up online banking. Thus, seniors don’t have to be concerned about keeping extra money with them and in their homes.
Appropriate referrals to community service agencies/programs: MSO is able to provide seniors with information about relevant support agencies and community programs. Some of these programs are: Seniors Abuse and Information Line, Alzheimer Society of British Columbia, Fraser Health-Home Health, Fraser Health Crisis Line, emergency services, and others.
Support with sourcing out transportation services: The program supports seniors in finding appropriate and accessible local transportation services. Clients are kept informed of the latest BC Transit updates.
Help with an inventory of essentials: MSO works with isolated seniors who may face barriers to obtaining food and other essential supplies. The seniors are helped with access to food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) where needed by providing sourcing of these essential supplies. Where needed, a back-up plan may be created for the seniors and their specific service providers. This may mean that, in the case of a barrier such as language or ability, the senior doesn’t miss out on needed support. Mobile Seniors Outreach volunteers ensure consistency and continuation of their needs.
Assists with virtual communication and basic IT trouble shooting: To maintain connection to family and friends, the program can connect the senior with tech-savvy volunteers in order to set up apps such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, and WhatsApp. Donations of tech devices are always welcome and they allow isolated seniors, who could not otherwise afford them, stay socially connected.
Friendly phone chats: Seniors identified as being especially vulnerable to feelings of loneliness receive phone calls from staff and volunteers. When there is no answer, a message is left and if still unanswered, two more call are made. If the volunteers still don’t receive a response, documented emergency contacts are alerted and asked about the senior’s well being. These particular seniors are identified by outreach efforts through Senior Services program coordinators, as well as MSO staff and volunteers)
Helping with filling out applications: Sometimes a senior needs just a little help with applications to programs such as SAFER, or Lifeline.
Essential/urgent printing: MSO will print and deliver urgent/essential documents requested by seniors.
Any of the services and support provided to the seniors that need deliveries to their home require the volunteer to practice and be mindful of safe physical distancing measures.
Sometimes home visits are required, for instance, when seniors need help with setting up online banking, technology or filling out applications. A volunteer first makes sure that the senior does not have any symptoms and has not been exposed to COVID-19 (to the best of their knowledge). They do the same for themselves. When at the senior’s home the volunteer maintains the prescribed six foot distance, and handles electronic devices in a manner that abides by social distancing guidelines. This may involve placing down the device and then standing back as the senior uses the device and then vice versa. All items are wiped down to remove any possible COVID-19 virus germs. This service is integral to keeping e-communication open for those seniors who may face technology barriers. Few community-based services currently offer home visits.
If a service requires proximity and social distancing cannot be maintained, the volunteer will tactfully explain that the service can’t be done and completed at this time during the pandemic.
The program delivers support and services based on priority and the level of urgency required. Urgent requests are addressed as quickly as possible with as little wait time that can be managed by staff and volunteers.
"I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to volunteer with the Senior Outreach Program. This is a difficult time for everyone, but particularly for our seniors, who often need extra help in their day to day lives, and this program is invaluable to them. The Senior Outreach Program is an important lifeline that I am proud to have been a part of” said Daniel, a volunteer with Mobile Seniors Outreach (Daniel is pictured below).
Any requests made outside of the regular Mobile Seniors Outreach Program may be addressed with guidance to other external resources. MSO aims to offer as large a basket of support to seniors as is possible.
A strength in the program is that it falls under the umbrella of Archway Community Services. Archway offers a wide array of programs and expertise that helps the Mobile Seniors Outreach Program advance its mission. Currently MSO also uses Archway’s existing partnerships in reaching its goals to support isolated seniors during COVID-19. MSO continues as well to search for and build its own partnerships as needed.
The program volunteers were on-boarded from Archway’s pool of volunteers. When additional volunteers are needed, Archway puts out a call for more hands.
Currently there is one staff member and 10 volunteers running the program.
Funding for the program is provided by Archway Community Service's Seniors Department and operating partially with funds from the Better at Home of United Way of the Lower Mainland grant to not only find ways to support the participants of the Better at Home program but the older adults of our community.
MSO advertises its program and its resources by means of various media.
Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.