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Senior Services introduces new tech options


December 17, 2020

Thanks to funding through the CARES Act, Crook County Senior Services has been getting creative with its technology options. Seniors across the county can now take home a mobile internet hotspot, attend a meeting virtually at their local center or enjoy a socially distanced movie with friends.

According to Director Jenna Ellsbury, CCSS concentrated on a few big priorities when applying for pandemic-related funding through the State Lands and Investment Board. The first of these was a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Delivering meals and visiting seniors’ homes to assist with housework will be significantly easier for CCSS using this vehicle, she says, particularly in the harder-to-reach parts of the county and during bad weather.

Through a tech grant, CCSS was recently able to secure 11 tablets and some laptops, Ellsbury says. However, she soon realized there was an issue.

“The problem I ran into that was that it’s great, but some people don’t have internet,” she says.

“With the CARES Act funding, I was able to get mobile hotspots. They are still in the process of coming in.”

Seniors will be able to contact CCSS to secure a tablet and mobile hotspot, which they can then keep at home for a period of time. There is no cost to the senior associated with this service.

Ellsbury believes this to be an important option at a time when many services have moved online, but seniors may not feel comfortable visiting a public space like the library or a family member’s home to access the internet.

“They can do their online banking, they can do their medical appointments – whatever they need to do, at home,” Ellsbury says. “Even just social media.”

With more seniors reporting loneliness due to the pandemic, Ellsbury is thrilled to be able to offer a way for them to contact family members from the safety of home.

“I would like to see all the tablets go out over Christmas, so that way they can be Facetiming their family over Christmas,” she says.

Data for the hotspots are unlimited, says Ellsbury, but they do function via a cellular network so seniors will need to have cellphone reception.

“For the most part, people know where they can get cellphone reception,” she says.

The hotspots will already be set up to work and consist of a small box that attaches to the tablet or laptop. For seniors who need assistance in getting set up, Ellsbury says, “We can do limited technology classes right now. We are still under COVID-19 restrictions, so I can’t do a big technology class, but if they would like to give us a call we can help them.”

Funding through the CARES Act has also allowed CCSS to fund the medical pendant program through the end of 2021.

“Seniors will still have to pay their portion, which is a very reduced price – anywhere from a dollar to $16. We pay $27 to $30 a piece on our end,” Ellsbury says.

Funding for that program was due to end on July 1 because of budget cuts, but CCSS has been able to subsidize it through CARES Act funding. This is a vital step to ensuring seniors are able to stay in their homes, she says.

“There are two different versions: there’s a landline one and there’s a mobile one. If you have cellular reception at your house, we like to see you in the mobile one because that goes wherever you go,” she says. “The landline ones are tied to the house, but it’s nice [to have them] because there are people out here who don’t have cellphone reception.”

The pendant automatically calls your emergency contact if you fall. If there is no response, it will call for help through the local healthcare system.

There is also a button installed on the pendant that can be pushed if you are in need of assistance. By making sure seniors are never unable to access help, they provide peace of mind for seniors and their families.

Meanwhile, CCSS has been running into the issue of seniors needing to make online calls for the meetings of boards they serve on. Activities that seniors have long enjoyed have also had to be cancelled due to social distancing requirements, says Ellsbury, such as visiting the senior centers to watch a movie.

Another piece of technology acquired through CARES Act funding solves both of these issues.

“We were able to get a large smart television, so we can funnel Zoom meetings through them for anyone who wants,” she says. “It’s a large TV, so people can social distance and still see it.”

The television can be used for any purpose. It will be connected to a laptop at all times, for instance, so that it can even be used to make video calls to family members.

Pleased with the new services CCSS is able to offer, “We got some really cool things,” Ellsbury smiles. She invites seniors to come take advantage of all the upgrades on offer.


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