For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom has appealed to each of us to connect with our state’s older residents through his “Stay Home. Save Lives. Check In.” initiative. Listos California, a campaign by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services that helps vulnerable Californians prepare for disasters, is continuing this action with a new strategy. (Listos means “ready” in Spanish.) 

Listos California is launching a new project to counter strict social distancing with social bridging: one-on-one communication with older adults through check-in phone calls. 

BACKGROUND Because COVID-19 presents a disproportionate threat to older adults, they must observe the strictest physical distancing measures. To stay safe, they must stay home. 

But for many older Californians, particularly those who live alone, the resulting social isolation is also hazardous to their health. Prolonged isolation and social distancing pose grave threats to the physical and emotional well-being of many older Californians. The National Academy of Sciences reports that social isolation and loneliness can cause premature death, comparable to other risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity. 

THE PROJECT The Listos California Social Bridging Project will train and mobilize people to call older Californians to check on their well-being, direct them to resources, and simply connect on a personal level. These calls will supplement check-in programs underway in counties across the state. 

These “Social Bridgers” will prioritize reaching the most isolated older adults, those living in pandemic hot spots, and those likely to be facing food insecurity. Callers may discover that an older couple is out of groceries or medicine. They may find an older man struggling alone with a cough and fever. Or they may identify an older widow suffering from depression or lack of sleep due to loneliness. 

Callers will be trained to assess basic needs and make referrals. They will also listen closely and empathize with each individual’s experience of this pandemic. Older Californians will know that they are not alone. 

The project will launch in partnership with the California Department of Aging, and with three founding partners from the public, private and academic sectors. 

Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) comprised of FEMA-trained disaster volunteers 

United Airlines employees based at San Francisco International Airport 

California State University, Sacramento gerontology students 

Partnerships will be expanded in the coming weeks. Members of the public are not being solicited as callers at this time. 

IMPACT Making personal connections by phone will be a welcome, even powerful, experience for call recipients who have been forced to stay in their homes for weeks or months, often cut off from direct contact with family, friends, neighbors and even caregivers. 

But the social bridge works both ways. Callers will also benefit from the opportunity to be of service during this unprecedented statewide shutdown. Many Californians have already stepped up to help their neighbors, and many more seek rewarding ways to make a difference, without risking their own health and families. The Social Bridging Project will empower Californians to aid others from the safety of their homes and workplaces. 

Listos California will help more Californians endure this disaster by building new bridges to each other. This will change lives on both ends of the bridge and, when callers discover urgent needs, may even save lives. 

DETAILS FOR CALLERS This effort will launch in April. Bridgers may use a computer and phone to place calls from any safe location with WiFi. Personal phone numbers will be masked during calls. 

They will receive: 

• Training on how to use the tech and tools 

• Training on how to engage with older adults 

• Tools to contact older residents at risk 

• Scripts to guide the conversations 

• Resource lists for referrals to state and local services 

CONTACT Kathy Stadler, Organizing Director Listos California Social Bridging Project 619–634–3681.

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