Aging service providers engage volunteers to reduce social isolation for adults

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Providers of aging services are seeking to expand programs that address social isolation in the pandemic, including volunteer models like Friendly Calls.

While the concept of Friendly Calls is straight-forward – neighbors phoning neighbors for short, structured conversations – there are many intricacies involved in organizing and guiding these volunteer models effectively.

To help, the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), Association on Aging in New York (AgingNY), and DOROT have partnered on a Friendly Calls Volunteer Manual and training videos to expand the development and growth of these outreach programs locally.

Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and other community-based aging services partners are encouraged to use these training materials in the development or enhancement of Friendly Calls programs in their communities using standardized best-practices.

NYSOFA Director Greg Olsen said: “Social isolation remains a serious public health concern in the pandemic, contributing to depression, poor health care outcomes, and increased mortality rates in some cases.

“NYSOFA’s 20-plus core programs include nutrition, transportation, personal care, social day care, and other services that all address social isolation at the local level while simultaneously providing vital supports and assistance.”

NYSOFA has also deployed several new pioneering solutions aimed at social isolation, from high-tech virtual platforms to grassroots outreach efforts that channel the carefully guided goodwill and kindness of neighbors helping neighbors, which is why this Friendly Calls project is so powerful.”

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said: “This collaboration with the New York State Office for the Aging and its partners advances health equity efforts and enhances NYSOFA’s existing programs that address loneliness and social isolation across their statewide aging network.

“The Friendly Calls program will increase access to meaningful one-on-one conversations for many individuals who can benefit from greater social connectedness to positively impact health and quality of life.”

AgingNY Executive Director Becky Preve said: “The pandemic has highlighted longstanding concerns about social isolation and loneliness in older populations. Programs that provide ongoing support and contact via volunteers are paramount in combating social isolation.

“These programs have significant benefits for both the volunteer and the older individual. We are thrilled to partner with NYSOFA, DOH, and DOROT for subject matter expertise in creating the resources necessary to enhance and expand these programs among aging services providers.”

Ali Hodin-Baier, DOROT’s Chief Program Officer, said: “We thank NYSOFA and the Association on Aging in New York for acknowledging DOROT’s expertise and seeking our guidance in developing training manuals and videos to support agencies in implementing the state’s new Friendly Calls program.

“The Friendly Calls program is based on DOROT’s highly successful Caring Calls model, which has brought thousands of volunteers and older adults across the country together for meaningful social connections over the phone. We know it to be life-changing for people experiencing social isolation and loneliness during the pandemic.”

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