The United States are becoming the country with the largest number of people infected with Covid-19 and with the largest number of deaths. COVID-19 worldwide has had a greater impact on those with underlying health conditions, which is very often linked to more difficult living conditions. Precarious workers and elders are amongst the more vulnerable as they are most exposed to the virus but also most exposed to have financial problems due to the crisis. Furthermore, they are great inequities in the access to the public health care system.
In this context, all Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly chapters reacted very proactively in order to adapt their way of taking care of the lonely elders.
In Minneapolis-St Paul, Chicago, Upper Michigan, Boston, New-York, San Francisco and Cincinnati, the chapters have developed new programs to stay in contact and to fight isolation among the people they serve throughout the year:
- The very first measure to protect the safety of elderly and volunteers was to suspend all events and social clubs.
- Visiting programs also stopped and were replaced by phone conversations and friendly chats (“tele friending”). In the period, the elders feel lonelier and more stressed so to be called by volunteers is very important for them. On LBFE Chicago website, volunteers will find topics ideas every week to help them in their conversation with the elders and to be sure not to speak only about the virus.
- The teams also organized to deliver food bags to the more vulnerable elders. For example, in Upper Michigan they rallied and got about 100 food bags out by March 20th, now they have emergency bags available and will do monthly bags in April. In Chicago, their food program still go on and may even be extended to some new elders. In order to guaranty safety, the teams had implemented a new method: the phone, knock, and drop” method.
- Also, volunteers and staff send cards to elders for their birthdays.
- As Easter is a special day for a lot of people, in most of the chapters, volunteers delivered special food bags and hot meals on Easter Sunday.
- To reassure the elders that they won’t be alone, Chicago chapter launched « We Care / We’re Careful Campaign » to notify them and volunteers that the programs continue but also that they did put in place a proactive and comprehensive plan to minimize the risks of spreading coronavirus.
If the first challenge for all the American Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly Chapters was to adapt their programs to be sure to keep contact with all the elders, the second one was to be able to welcome new volunteers. In the face of this health crisis, many citizens want to get involved. For example, in Minnesota, they are registering and background checking over 40 new volunteers to provide additional telephone support to existing elders. To welcome new volunteers, all the Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly teams around the States had to invent a new way to welcome them since it is impossible to do face to face meetings right now! New tools are developed in order to help them. Another challenge will be to retain those new volunteers when the crisis will end.
Fighting the isolation among elderly is a real challenge in a context where everyone is under lockdown and the watchword is social distancing. Teams, like everywhere else in the world, work from home which obliges to adapt ways of being in contact and sharing information. Regular contacts via email or phone are organized every day among the teams, phone lines have been redirected to staff cell phones and physical meetings have been replaced by video calls.
The chapters’ directors are also very much in demand by the media at this time and everyone is trying to alert the public to the fact that the elderly are among the forgotten ones in American society and that this crisis is bringing to light the living and health conditions of many of them. The chapters hope that people will not forget this when “normal” life will return. The social isolation of elders is a 365 days-a-year issue and the programs of Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly will be even more needed after the crisis.