New program offers phone calls to isolated seniors

Tribune Content Agency

BALTIMORE — Shirley Phillips knows she is one of the lucky ones. The 78-year-old Laurel, Md., resident has family members nearby who get her groceries and talk with her during this time of staying inside.

She didn’t hesitate, however, when she was asked by the city if she would like to receive a phone call every Sunday night from a volunteer to check in with her.

“It’s still good to have an outsider who calls and talks to you,” Phillips said. “I think it is a good idea, especially now.”

An idea of Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, the Chat with a Senior program features volunteers calling senior citizens every Sunday night around 7:30 p.m. to check in and chat.

“A lot of seniors are lonely at times,” Moe said. “Not all of them hear from family. People need a break from looking at four walls and not talking to people.”

The program began April 19, with 23 seniors receiving calls and 34 volunteers available, according to Christine Johnston, administrative assistant for the city’s department of communication and its volunteer coordinator.

“For volunteers, we had a very good response, with a range of people, students to adults, interested in helping,” Johnson said.

All volunteers are required to fill out a form available on the city’s website, for security reasons. Johnson also provides a list of do’s and don’ts to talk about.

“Don’t ask personal questions. Do offer resource numbers,” Johnson said. “Find out what interests them. Talk about yourself.”

“It allows them (seniors) to talk with the individual and learn about them and what they do and vice versa,” Moe said. “It gets them away from the TV and bad news.”

Phillips, who has back problems, lives alone. Since the coronavirus pandemic, she has not left the house since March 3.

“Before all this, I always had a project I had to do each day,” Phillips said. “I miss my bingo on Tuesdays. Thank God we are still able to talk on the phone.”

Conversations vary in length depending on the individuals, but Johnson believes they average about 10 to 15 minutes. Johnson’s own family members are participating in the phone calls.

“My husband had a very talkative person,” said Johnson, and her 14-year-old daughter was asked about a ride during the first week. All participants are asked to email or call after each call to report how it went.

“We had two seniors who needed assistance,” Johnson said of the first week. Besides a ride, one asked about groceries. Both were given help.

The city has also set up a system that reminds citizens three times a week via social media/Facebook to check in on elderly family members or neighbors.

“We are in this for the long haul,” Moe said. “We need senior citizens to know we have not forgotten about them. We are here to assist. This is one way to do this.”


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