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‘Friendly Calls’ program engages volunteers in effort to reduce social isolation for older adults

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.

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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.”

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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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How it Works

The Friendly Calls program is overseen by a county-based Office for Aging/AAA or other social service organization. It is intended to reach people who live alone, are isolated, or express interest in some type of social connection. Participants who meet these criteria are assigned to a volunteer who calls them weekly for conversations of about 20 to 30 minutes in length.

Volunteers use a tracking form to log calls. They report to a program manager at the AAA or sponsoring agency who can help address any concerns that might arise, especially if any of the conversations reveal a need for additional supportive services, such as lack of food or unsafe housing conditions. Volunteers are provided sample scripts and are also trained on how to hold engaging conversations, discuss meaningful and appropriate topics, and establish boundaries.

This new training program was developed with support from the federal Building Resilient Inclusive Communities (BRIC) project, which is designed to help states and community-based organizations improve safe access to physical activity, promote healthy eating by improving nutrition security, and reduce social isolation and loneliness.

Friendly Calls is part of a multi-pronged NYSOFA effort to address social isolation, which the U.S. Surgeon General has declared a “global epidemic.” According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, social isolation drives $6.7 billion in additional associated Medicare spending per year. The health consequences of loneliness and isolation are equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily.

Getting Help

If you or an older adult in your life needs support or feels isolated, please contact the NY Connects hotline at 1-800-342-9871 for one-stop access to free, objective and comprehensive information and assistance at the local level. You can also reach your county office for the aging by using NYSOFA’s online directory.

Categories: New York StateNews