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Purchase of iPads helps isolated seniors connect during pandemic

(Stock photo by Metro Creative)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Aging Services Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, is doing its part to help residents of two area care facilities in escaping the isolation they’ve had to deal with throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through generous donations from the Community Foundation of Marquette County, United Way and the West End Health Foundation, RSVP was able to purchase 50 refurbished iPads to connect residents of the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans and the Marquette County Medical Care Facility through its “Virtual Friendly Visiting” program.

The iPads can be checked out by both the facilities and program volunteers to promote face-to-face social interaction for isolated seniors.

“Our ‘Friendly Visiting’ program has been in place for 30 years and will continue in this new virtual format, allowing matches to maintain their social connections throughout the pandemic,” said Mary Harris, RSVP director. “RSVP volunteers have been providing support in residential facilities through activities, entertainment and visitation. When COVID-19 restrictions were put into place to protect residents, RSVP volunteers were no longer able to provide these crucial social interactions.

“Residents are experiencing increased isolation, which can effect both mental and physical health. Our volunteers have also experienced increased isolation due to the limitations of social interaction. Virtual face-to-face visits can benefit both volunteers and those they visit by decreasing isolation and increasing social connection.”

Each iPad is a refurbished iPad 2 and cost approximately $70. The iPad 2 originally released in 2011 and was Apple’s second installment in the iPad line. The iPad 2 was discontinued in 2014.

The outdated but still useful technology of the iPad 2 fits perfectly with the program’s needs.

“It allows for a simplified unit with a large screen for use by those who may have limited experience with technology,” Harris said.

Through their cooperative COVID-19 fund, specific to helping with issues related directly to the pandemic, the Community Foundation of Marquette County and United Way contributed $2,500 toward the iPads for both facilities. The West End Health Foundation matched another $2,500 toward the iPads and accessibility to them for isolated seniors and program volunteers who reside on the West End and at the Marquette County Medical Care Facility. Additional funding was provided by AmeriCorps Seniors and the Adult and Aging Services Agency of Michigan.

Harris said they’ve only purchased half of what their long-term goal is.

“We initially have purchased 50 units,” she said. “Our long-term goal is to purchase 100 units to provide ample access for both volunteers and seniors in long-term residential care.”

The program is in its earliest stages, and visitations will begin next week.

“We are in the beginning stages of the program,” Harris said. “Training volunteers and facility staff to use the iPads and pairing and distributing the units. Visitations will begin next week, with a sample of volunteers and matches, to work out any issues with technology.”

While the program will begin with support for Jacobetti and the Marquette County Medical Care Facility, Harris didn’t rule out providing the service to other care facilities, and has also done a lot in helping area care facilities throughout the pandemic.

“Our volunteers continue to provide support for other facilities through our Heart to Hear Card Club, sending a constant stream of cards to residents in facilities throughout Marquette County,” she said. “We also have ‘Friendly Visitors’ providing phone visits to residents in other facilities.

“RSVP transporters are being matched with seniors in the client, providing transportation to life prolonging treatments such as chemotherapy, dialysis or cardio rehab. RSVP crafters have been hard at work sewing masks for staff, creating lap robes, adult bibs, catheter bags and wheelchair and walker bags for residents in long-term care facilities. RSVP also provides Lifetracker services, a radio tracking program, for residents with dementia and other memory impairments.”

For more information on Marquette County Aging Services and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, call 906-315-2658 or 906-315-2607.

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