Blog Post

Volunteering goes high-tech during pandemic

By Barbara Sherf


Older adults who want to volunteer their time and talents for charitable pursuits have had to change the way they perform certain tasks during the pandemic, leaning more on technology and safety.

PCA’s Lynda Pickett, who serves as assistant director for in-home support and volunteer services, oversees three programs that utilize volunteers. All have had to pivot operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had to rely more heavily on our telephone assurance program to check in with seniors as opposed to one-on-one in-home visits,” Pickett said.

PCA’s Ombudsman Program uses volunteer advocates to represent the interests of Philadelphia’s 14,000 nursing facility residents. In that program, ombudsmen are utilizing a PADBOT to do the monitoring instead of physical in-person visits.

“PADBOT is a tablet type of computer that’s on wheels that can go from room to room and check in on a resident, providing real-time feedback to the technician monitoring the services provided by the facility,” said Pickett.

Pickett and her colleagues have received some funding to enable them to bridge the digital divide in services.

“Many of our seniors don’t have the most up-to-date technology, so we are helping them and installing more internet hotspots where they are needed,” said Pickett, who also oversees the APPRISE Program to help Medicare beneficiaries find the health care coverage for their individual needs.

Daniel Z. Louis has been working for the APPRISE Program for more than four years. Pre-pandemic, Louis would set up individual appointments and go into older adult living facilities to educate clients about the difference in providers, which, at times, can be very confusing.

“I’m 74 and worked at Jefferson to train medical students on what is out there and how to access the information. Yet, I needed help when looking at all of the (Medicare) options. That’s how I came to (become an APPRISE) volunteer myself,” said Louis, who notes that volunteering during the pandemic has its pros and cons.

“It’s all virtual now. There is no relationship-building, face-to-face, unless it’s on Zoom,” he said. “We have more clients who might not have made an appointment and gone out to sit down with an advisor. It’s been a dramatic change in how we work, but it also provides much more flexibility in my schedule to work with more clients and get the information out there (by phone and electronically).”

There are two upcoming webinar sessions, titled “Ready to Retire? What you need to know About Medicare.”

“The webinars will introduce some seniors to the Medicare program, but there is still room for the one-on-one counseling that APPRISE volunteers can provide.

What volunteering will look like post-pandemic is anyone’s guess. “I don’t know what we are going to do when we can go back to face-to-face sessions,” Louis said. “I expect we will have a hybrid model (of providing both in-person counseling sessions and) using more technology where possible.”

Over at Center in the Park in Germantown, 87-year-old Ombudsman volunteer Ethel Malone provides information on the rights for personal care and nursing home residents. Pre-pandemic, she would actually go into the facilities, but that is not possible now.

“We are mostly doing telephone calls and are doing Zoom meetings with the presentations to better get this information out there,” said Malone of West Mount Airy. “I’ve been blessed with good health, and I feel what I am doing is worthwhile so I like affecting the lives of people I’m working with in a positive way.”

Over at the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, Statewide Volunteer Coordinator Veronica Kell said some of her challenges across the state stems from technology. “A lot of (older) folks don’t have a computer or smartphone,” Kell said. “We try to get people to use the phone to check in on seniors virtually. Anything we can do to keep them engaged is a good thing. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about this pandemic, it’s how to adapt and be flexible.”


Author and speaker Barbara Sherf captures the stories of businesses and individuals.