As the COVID-19 outbreak caused the shutting down of businesses, services and daily life, many frail elderly were left particularly vulnerable. Not only was this population most at risk from the virus itself, but also from the dangers of social isolation and depression.
By mid-March, St. Jude Senior Services had developed a list of more than 400 at-risk seniors and recruited more than 80 volunteers to check on them through frequent phone calls. In addition to providing reassurance and encouragement, the calls were used to identify needs—from groceries and prescriptions to early signs of depression.
“The beginning of COVID was a scary time for many of the elderly, and what we found is that the knowledge that someone would check on them, help them solve problems, or just be willing to listen, eliminated some of the fear,” explains Karyl Dupée, LMFT, Clinical Supervisor, St. Jude Senior Services.
Father Raphael Ddamba, a St. Jude chaplain, regularly checks on four seniors—and he often goes beyond just phone calls. For instance, in addition to his usual delivery of weekly groceries for one elderly woman, he recently brought a birthday cake to another (who had expected no one would remember). Father Raphael also dropped off flowers to cheer an isolated widow whose depression has worsened. All four are very grateful to have someone checking on them.
While the phone-call program called Cheer a Senior has had some dramatic saves—such as the senior who had been without her medications for over a week or the senior who had run out of groceries due to fear of visiting a store—most phone calls have focused on getting to know the senior, and helping them problem-solve a transportation or other routine issue.
Some St. Jude caregivers who signed-up to make phone calls were already part of the hospital’s Caring Neighbors Program, also organized by Senior Services, where volunteers visit homebound seniors every week to help with errands, projects or just to chat. Mark Pennington, CPhT, St. Jude Medical Plaza CT Coordinator, has participated in Caring Neighbors for over a decade—the past three years spent helping 93-year-old Peggy. Click on the photo above to watch a KABC News broadcast on Peggy and Mark. You can also click here for KFI's report.
You might say the program follows the model first established by the Sisters: Identify the needs of the vulnerable and be flexible and innovative in meeting them. But then again, that approach also explains the growth and success of St. Jude’s Senior Services, which offers numerous services and unique outreach programs. The three-person department touches more than 5,000 seniors a year and is part of the hospital’s ongoing community service commitment.
Do you know a homebound or isolated senior who might need help? Please call St. Jude Senior Services at (714) 446-7035 or email Karyl.Dupee@stjoe.org.