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Case Study: How SAGE Connect used technology to scale a telephone reassurance program from 0 to 500+ clients during COVID

Summary


Founded in 1978, SAGE USA is a national nonprofit that offers aging services and supports to LGBT elders across the country. As shelter-in-place measures were enacted to reduce the spread of COVID-19, millions of elders were forced into physical and social isolation. SAGE responded by building an intergenerational community through a friendly caller program, SAGEConnect, that pairs LGBT elders across the country with younger volunteers for connection at a time when in-person programming was forced to stop. This case study describes how SAGE Connect built one of the largest telephone reassurance programs for seniors in the country with one half-time staff member.

Challenge


Two years ago, there wasn’t a single state record that listed social isolation as a cause of death. However, when stay-at-home and confinement measures were enacted to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for seniors, social isolation emerged as a contributing cause of death for at least ten seniors in Minnesota from June to September 2020 alone.

The risk of social isolation is even greater for LGBT elders. LGBT older people are twice as likely to be single and live alone, and four times less likely to have children. These statistics are what drive the mission of SAGE USA so that these elders have a community to lean on for friendship, support, and basic livelihood.

SAGE USA runs over a dozen programs to advocate for and serve LGBT elders, many of which involve in-person programming and community building. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, SAGE was left with limited options and resources to sustain its advocacy efforts for seniors and quickly needed to build a solution to reach the thousands of seniors they serve to reduce the risk of social isolation. When considering what solution would be viable, SAGE recognized that technology would be an issue for older clients who might not have a computer or the fluency to navigate online applications.

We knew that technology would be an issue for our folks, many of whom don’t have devices to log in to Zoom. But they all have a phone, even if it’s a landline or a flip phone.” - Bill Gross, Assistant Director of Special Programs, SAGE
Thus, SAGE quickly launched SAGEConnect, a friendly caller program connecting LGBT elders with volunteers in the community for mutual support. Initially, the scrappy team at SAGEConnect turned to Excel spreadsheets and pen and paper processes to handle client intake, matching, and coordination. However, the program’s popularity quickly outstripped the capacities of the small team and its manual processes.

SAGE knew in order to expand the service to seniors across the country, it would need to streamline the process and automate where possible.  SAGE Staff were manually sending emails to both seniors and volunteers to coordinate matches and call times. Volunteers were emailing their timesheets if they remembered, and staff had to manually enter call times into a spreadsheet. There wasn’t a reliable way for coordinators to track whether calls were completed, and some volunteers and clients expressed concerns about personal information being shared.  SAGEConnect was realizing it would need to hire several full-time coordinators just to manage the program if it continued using the same process.

Solution


SAGE partnered with Mon Ami’s telephone reassurance software to manage and grow its SAGEConnect friendly caller program. With Mon Ami’s technology, SAGE was able to streamline the matching process and automatically track call minutes, while providing a way to mask numbers for both volunteers and seniors. 

Key Benefits: 


1. Streamlined matching:

SAGEConnect’s coordinators previously had to capture volunteer and client information in separate spreadsheets that would quickly become stale. After struggling to find relevant client and volunteer contact information as well as consider if the pair would match well for a friendly phone call, the coordinator would need to draft separate emails to both the client and volunteer to coordinate logistics for the call. With Mon Ami’s system, all client and volunteer data, interests, and contact information lives in one place with a match feature that automates logistics to coordinate calls.  Instead of manually sending confirmation emails, the Mon Amy system does it automatically as soon as a match is made, sharing relevant information with volunteers to initiate their calls.  

2. Automatic call tracking and reporting:

Like many telephone reassurance programs, SAGEConnect has to collect and report on volunteer hours, including time spent on the phone with a client. The team previously managed reporting using paper timesheets and call logs, which became tedious for volunteers to submit and overwhelming for administrators to manually enter into their existing data management system.  With Mon Ami’s phone system, all call attempts, connections, and minutes spent on the phone are automatically tracked with electronic reports or spreadsheets readily available to pull. SAGEConnect now knows exactly when a volunteer places a call, if they actually connect or if it’s a missed call, and how long that call lasted. And the volunteers don’t have to submit any timesheets in order for their minutes to be counted. 

3. Protecting personal information:

Many organizations struggle to hide or mask personal contact information when starting telephone reassurance programs. Volunteers or clients may express discomfort in sharing their personal phone numbers with others.  As a solution, Mon Ami designates a uniform phone number for SAGEConnect that both volunteers and clients call to connect with their match.  Volunteers and clients still use their own personal devices, whether that is a cellphone or landline, but by using the Mon Ami system, phone numbers are masked and the caller ID only shows the SAGEConnect’s phone number.  The uniform phone number also eliminates the back and forth between volunteers and coordinators, who had to send unique emails to each volunteer with their client match and phone number.

With many organizations, including SAGEConnect, being forced to move to remote work, it became crucial for programs to have better visibility into the operations of their programs. With Mon Ami’s telephone reassurance program, administrators are able to see when and if clients have been called, allowing for more accurate tracking of volunteer activity.

Results


Even with limited options and resources to sustain advocacy efforts for seniors due to COVID-19, and the rapid need to build a solution to reach the thousands of seniors they serve to reduce the risk of social isolation, SAGEConnect was able to enroll and successfully match over 500 elders with volunteers who have made over 2,500 hours of calls between June 2020 and March 2021. Instead of hiring several full-time coordinators, SAGE is able to manage the program with one half-time staff member through the help of technology that streamlines the process and auto-flags concerns. 

With the Mon Ami System, all of SAGE’s client and volunteer data live securely in one place removing the need to update and pass around various spreadsheets across the organization.  Clients and volunteers are now matched for phone calls with a single click of a button that generates automated emails with logistical details of the call to both parties, and case managers and assigned administrators receive notifications when volunteers submit concerns about clients. SAGE has the capacity to match over twenty clients with volunteers for friendly phone calls in a single hour without having to search for contact information or send separate emails to both clients and volunteers.

Importantly, by using the Mon Ami system, SAGE has been able to surface client issues around mental health, food insecurity, housing, financial aid, and more, and direct case managers’ time and attention to pressing client concerns. Twenty-four percent (24%) of the time, SAGEConnect volunteers reported a concern about their match, such as limited access to food or insecure housing, which SAGE’s care navigation team was able to address or refer.  In one example, a volunteer reported, “Concerned about food instability. He received a food supply package, but due to lack of a kitchen, much of the supply will not be able to be consumed. He normally receives more prepared meals but in this week's shipment it was all kitchen staples requiring pots, pans, boiling water, etc.”  

Programs like SAGEConnect have a profound impact on its participants. Even a once-a-week phone call can make a difference in someone’s experience of loneliness. In a study conducted by JAMA Network, a Meals on Wheels organization delivered friendly calls to over 200 older adults and found that loneliness, depression, and anxiety were rapidly reduced through layperson-delivered calls that focused on empathetic listening.

While volunteers and clients were initially brought together for friendly phone calls, meaningful relationships have developed. The following quotes are a testament to the importance of programs like SAGE Connect:

“Thank you so much, Christian! Not only did I enjoy our conversation, but you told me some important news, that Long Beach had to rescind its protocol of restricting the beach to local residents. I went on the Beach's website and you were right! They are allowing non-residents to purchase a day pass ($8, $4 for seniors) Monday through Thursday only. I'm definitely going to take advantage of that!” - SAGE Connect Client

“Good morning Dana..it is always a pleasure talking with you. I hope you're resting so you may continue your recovery. I also wish your wife a good recovery. Thank you for thinking of me while you were not well..we need more caring people like you. Again, thank you, and hope to hear from you soon.” - SAGE Connect Client

“Great initial call with Robert. He seems to be doing great - he has financial goals, exercises frequently, has hobbies, stable housing, regular doctor’s appointments, and has a job during the day. Only concern is that he doesn’t seem to have any friends here in the City. He’s hungry for more social interaction. So I’m really glad he found this program! We discussed potentially meeting up to go for a run, which is one of his favorite things to do.” - SAGE Connect Volunteer

Mon Ami hopes to see more programs like SAGE Connect emerge to support local communities of seniors who need connection.

“Mon Ami is the reason why this program can exist with only a half-time staff person because their technology allows for a seamless management process.” - Julie Ugoretz, Program Coordinator for the Friendly Visitor and SAGEConnect programs.

About SAGE
SAGE is the world's largest and oldest organization committed to advocating for and serving LGBT elders.  Since 1978, SAGE has been building welcoming communities and contributing to the national conversation to ensure a fulfilling future for all LGBT people.  Special thanks to Bill Gross and Julie Ugoretz for contributing to this case study. 

About Mon Ami
Mon Ami builds modern technology solutions for senior service providers. We partner with government agencies, nonprofits, and other senior service organizations on the front lines of delivering essential support to older adults and adults with disabilities. Our software has coordinated over 10,000 hours of service in its testing, helping seniors and other vulnerable populations receive essential services. 
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