Group collecting old tech to help seniors connect with doctors

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Students from Telehealth Access for Seniors, a nonprofit started by Yale University students, bring smartphones and tablets to the Hartford Vet Center.

Students from Telehealth Access for Seniors, a nonprofit started by Yale University students, bring smartphones and tablets to the Hartford Vet Center.

Contributed Photo

SHELTON — Those iPhone 4s and Android 7s have plenty of life in them after all.

Yale University student and 2020 Shelton High graduate Siddharth Jain — one of the members of the grassroots nonprofit TeleHealth Access for Seniors — is teaming with Envision Shelton for an iPhone and tablet drive throughout June. The devices will be given to elderly and low income patients in the community who currently aren’t able to connect with their healthcare providers.

“It is important to recognize that while the pandemic seems to be coming to an end, TeleHealth is here to stay,” Jain said. “Both physicians and patients are now more comfortable using the technology. Telehealth is actually a better alternative than in-person appointments in many situations.”

Telehealth makes it easier to fit an appointment during a lunch break or at home without getting babysitters, Jain said.

“I have spoken with many, many providers who all agree with this, and it is also supported by extensive research,” Jain added. “For patients that tried virtual care, 88 percent said they’ll be willing to try it again. TeleHealth will always disproportionately impact elderly and low-income patients, and we are trying to fix this growing issue.”

Telehealth Access for Seniors, the nonprofit he is a part of with Yale University undergraduates Hannah Verma and Aakshi Agarwal and Orlando, Fla., high schooler Arjun Verma, was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With many medical practices now shifting to a telehealth appointment model where patients virtually attend appointments with their doctors from their own homes, linking patients and doctors became a priority.

"As everything suddenly shut down (in March 2020), doctors’ offices began to conduct virtual appointments, something new to most patients,” Jain said. “Elderly and low-income patients are disproportionately impacted as many either don’t have access to a camera-enabled device to attend these appointments or don’t know how to use them.

“For some, a missed checkup probably won’t have any significant effects,” Jain added, “however, for elderly patients or patients with chronic conditions, a missed checkup can be fatal.”

Hannah and Arjun Verma's parents are both physicians in Florida. Jain said the pair realized that many of their parents' patients don’t have access to devices, so they began to give old phones and tablets they had laying around their house to the patients.

“Realizing that everyone has old devices laying around their house collecting dust, they reached out to Aakshi Agarwal and I here in Connecticut to see if we wanted to do something similar with the devices we have at home,” Jain added. The two were among more than 30 high school and college students from throughout the country involved in the outreach.

This spawned the creation of Telehealth Access for Seniors last year. To date, the organization has worked with more than 550 volunteers in 26 states, donated 3,550 devices to 128 partner clinics and has raised $250,000 in combined monetary and in-kind donations.

In each of the communities that the organization serves, volunteers use their networks, social media and other creative fundraising tactics to collect money and used devices.

Volunteers ensure that all devices are completely reset, and all the data is wiped from them. From there, they partner with local health outlets such as veterans' hospitals and community clinics to donate the devices to patients in need.

“These devices are for the patients to keep forever now,” Jain said. “They can use it not only to connect with their providers but connect with loved ones and order essentials during this difficult time. We recognize that this is the first time that many of our patients have ever received a camera-enabled device, so we have a set of comprehensive resource guides that we provide.”

This includes everything from setting up the device, downloading TeleHealth apps, connecting with their providers, ordering groceries and downloading Zoom. The guides are available in many languages including English, Spanish and Mandarin, among others.

“If patients are still having difficultly setting up their devices, we have a tech support line staffed all day with volunteers who speak various languages to assist the patient either over the phone or video chat,” Jain added.

If anyone would like to learn more about the organization, is interested in volunteering, or would like a donation receipt, they can check out our website at www.telehealthforseniors.org or email me at siddharth.jain@telehealthforseniors.org.

Jain asks those with old iPhones (4 and newer), Androids (7.0 and newer) and tablets to drop off the devices at either Moderno’s Barbershop, 194 Leavenworth Road, or Splash Car Wash, 376 Bridgeport Ave., anytime through June 20.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com