The Ohio State College of Social Work has stepped up to serve older adults feeling isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County, an organization within the college, partnered with the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center in March to deliver resource bags and launch a phone line for older adults seeking informal conversation, Marisa Sheldon, assistant director of Age-Friendly Columbus, said.
The partnership has sent 2,200 necessity bags with food, toiletries and educational material to older adults in Franklin County, Sheldon said. As of Tuesday, the Friendly Phone Line — which includes students on its staff — received more than 1,800 calls totaling almost 110 hours of conversation.
“Nearly all of these are folks with a degree in social work or working towards a degree,” Sheldon said. “Calls have been an extremely wide range: some people that are anxious, some that are lonely and some just want to chat.”
Sheldon said apart from staff, those taking phone calls include College of Social Work students and qualified volunteers. The individuals taking the calls have backgrounds in clinical work, are trained prior to joining the phone line and are supervised during their calls, she said.
Although all calls are anonymous, Sheldon said some memorable quotes have stuck with those answering the phones, including: “I was in a dark place, and you all have lit my candle” and “Thank you for everyone who is offering this service.”
Jeffrey Glitt, a graduate student in social work, is one of the people answering the phone line. He said taking the calls has been an eye-opening experience into what older members of the community experience during the pandemic.
“A lot of the calls I’ve taken are from people living alone or in condos or assisted living who don’t have anyone coming around anymore, so just having someone to talk to eases that sense of loneliness they can get while isolated,” Glitt said.
Anna Stewart, assistant director of field education in the College of Social Work, said that although quarantine put a stop to students seeing their patients in person, some have created unique ways for older adults living in facilities to not feel isolated, such as visits through patients’ windows and video calls using Zoom.
“Social workers are often the primary connection for families battling the virus, offering support at hospitals, nursing homes and more. Social workers are providing vital mental health counseling through telehealth during this crisis due to social distancing,” Frankie Jones-Harris, communications director for the College of Social Work, said in an email.
For resources that cannot be provided over the phone, the partnership is delivering older adults necessity bags. The bags have been delivered to all 46 of Franklin County’s residential zip codes, Sheldon said.
The bags contain three-to-five days’ worth of shelf-stable food — such as canned goods, pasta and other nonperishables — as well as necessities such as soap, shampoo and toilet paper, according to the Age-Friendly Columbus website. Educational materials, such as a list of emergency numbers, community resources, notes of encouragement and Census 2020 information, are also included in the bags.
Sheldon said the bags have been well-received, and older people have been excited to see the workers delivering them. She said one woman who received a bag called to share a favorite gospel song, “God put a Rainbow in a Cloud,” and tell them they were the ones providing the rainbow.
“All of our initiatives and strategies are grounded in listening to the older adults in our community to implement change that will create a community that works for all,” Sheldon said.