Grantee Spotlight: Addressing Technology Needs of Older Adults
For seniors in Montgomery County, isolation and lack of access to technology aren’t new issues, but they certainly have been made worse by the pandemic the past year. The Senior Adult Activities Center of Montgomery County (Montco SAAC) is partnering up with tech providers and other senior centers to address this issue head on through their project “Connecting Seniors to the Safety Net”, a pilot project to study senior citizen technology needs. The project is funded through HealthSpark’s 2021 Innovation Lab grant program.
Whitney Lingle, Executive Director at Monto SAAC, shared that her staff recognized that participation in the senior center’s social services declined dramatically after they had to pivot to virtual programs in March 2020. “After discussing with staff and volunteers we found that because we weren’t seeing participants in person we were missing out on those casual conversations where they drop in to talk about the weather and end up mentioning they’re having trouble paying a utility bill,” she explained. So, staff began connecting directly with seniors virtually, but again ran into issues given the varied tech access and experiences of senior citizens. Some adults don’t have tablets, computers, or wifi, and others hadn’t been trained on how to use the technology.
“Connecting Seniors to the Safety Net” is a pilot program to explore how to better serve vulnerable seniors by assessing their current technology needs and abilities and then developing a plan for training them and/or providing hardware and internet access so that they can stay connected to the safety net.
Montco SAAC is partnering with Generations Online, a nonprofit that specializes in connecting seniors to technology, as well as four other senior centers in the county- Generations, Positive Aging Lower Merion, The Open Link, and Greater Harleysville and North Penn Senior Services. Ms. Lingle and her team decided that a collaborative approach to this issue would be more fruitful than going it alone. “The collaboration with other senior service organizations is vital because each agency is a trusted resource for the population we serve. We are able to better connect by working together,” she says.
Since launching in January, the pilot project is going well and already giving great insight into how these groups can offer sustainable solutions to engaging senior citizens to the social safety net through technology. As the project continues into the spring and summer, Montco SAAC and partners are looking to engage other funders in supporting the long-term sustainability of the project. The pilot project “shows that we can scale it to reach a larger population with little investment in infrastructure,” Ms. Lingle affirmed.
More information on Montco SAAC is available on their website, https://montcosaac.org.