UVA Students Help Seniors Adapt to Telehealth

When faced with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, many people found themselves floundering. But for third-year student at the University of Virginia  Rachana Subbanna, succumbing to pressure was never an option.

Inspired by students at Yale University, Subbanna co-created the University of Virginia branch of Telehealth for Seniors, an organization aimed at getting senior citizens the access to technology that they need for digital consultations during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We collect digital devices like phones, tablets, computers, anything with a camera, and donate it to clinics who then distribute it to patients,” Subbanna explained. Driven by the need for medical access, Telehealth enables seniors to visit their doctor virtually. With Telehealth, patients are able to have online consultations with physicians and receive the medical help they need without putting themselves at risk. 

Subana(middle) With the Charlottesville Free Clinic

Anika Iyer, a local volunteer and third-year at the University added how seniors,

“Are both the most in danger of getting COVID-19 and the most in need of access to technology.” 

With the help of Telehealth, these patients are able to reach their physicians in a safe and effective manner. The club aims at providing telemedicine to smaller communities of seniors, most of which are uninsured. 

Telehealth for Seniors started accepting donations within its personal circles and quickly expanded, even contacting businesses and receiving grants for purchasing newer, higher quality devices. According to Iyer, they accept the bulk of their donations in the form of used devices from students. In order to donate, volunteers simply wipe their technology clean by clearing the data and adding proper accessories.

Telehealth for Seniors has volunteers situated both in Northern Virginia and in Charlottesville to accept and drop off donations. By filling out forms for socially-distanced pick-up, Telehealth volunteers maximize donations.

Pictured above: VA Co-lead Sneha Thandra(right)  at Inova Hospital 

Despite it being the club’s first year, the team has already worked hard to fundraise. Telehealth recently donated 27 devices to the Charlottesville Free Clinic, surpassing their goal. As of October 21st, volunteers have compiled 45 donations for the Inova Hospital and hope to reach 70 devices within the next few weeks. 

While Telehealth for Seniors was more active in the summer, they haven’t lost steam with the start of the school year. Student volunteers meet about every two weeks with both their local team and the national chapter.

The University team has around 10 volunteers, and the national organization boasts over 350 members across 26 states. Nationally, Telehealth has donated 2500 devices, raised around $120,000, and partners with over 100 clinics. 

Telehealth for Seniors at the University is still recruiting volunteers, both for collecting donated technology and spreading awareness. Although the group is currently stationed in Fairfax, Chantilly, and Charlottesville, more volunteers are needed in the Richmond area and in other underserved locations. Additionally, Telehealth for Seniors needs new device donations. To be eligible for donation, devices must have a camera and Wifi capabilities. 

Already active in the University and local community, Subbanna said she was  inspired to take action by her inability to do anything to help. Similarly, Iyer reinforced the unpredictability of the virus and the need for solutions. About 50 percent of all seniors have three or more chronic conditions.

Even more have disabilities and chronic afflictions that require consistent care. By repurposing old devices through Telehealth for Seniors, these University students are continuing to support communities in need, one old tablet at a time. 

For more information on Telehealth for Seniors, visit https://www.telehealthforseniors.org.

Interested volunteering or donating? Email Rachana Subbanna at rs6fa@virginia.edu, or go to https://www.telehealthforseniors.org/support-us



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