Erica Mumm, clinical assistant professor of nursing, and her students created the Geriatric Outreach Program (GOP) in collaboration with the Sullivan Senior Center in Torrington, which has suspended all non-essential activities because of the threat of COVID-19, and Health360 in Waterbury, which is part of the Connecticut Area Health Education Center (AHEC).
The goal of GOP is to mobilize health profession students to provide support to vulnerable older adults who have been isolated as a result of the closure of senior centers, like Sullivan, and social distancing practices resulting from COVID-19.
The program was piloted over the summer. Seven student volunteers made telephone calls to members of the Sullivan Senior Center to check on their general health and screen for symptoms of COVID-19. They also determined if the patrons needed resources such as food and medical equipment or help with utilities. In addition, the Quinnipiac students, including Cody Michaels, made a conscious effort to get to know the older adults.
“As a student in the accelerated nursing program, it is easy to get wrapped up in the stress of studying,” Michaels said. “It allows me to put down the pen, close the computer and just focus on that senior on the other end of the line and engage in a friendly conversation. It allows the seniors to share their hopes, concerns and stories, while letting them know that they are not alone in these crazy times.”
The pilot was so successful that it was expanded this fall as part of nursing classes. About 50 students from Quinnipiac are participating.
“We are still doing the COVID-19 assessments, but there is more of an emphasis on interacting with the seniors and hearing about their lives,” Mumm said. “We want to break down the barriers of social isolation.
“In addition to helping the seniors, this program provides our students with a new lens to view what community health is and the holistic aspect of community health,” she added. “It is about knowing who the patient is, building a relationship and fostering compassion.”
Joel Sekorski, director Sullivan Senior Center, added that the “collaboration has been uplifting for everyone involved.”