As the second-most populous county in the state of Pennsylvania for adults aged 65+, the Montgomery County Office of Senior Services (OSS) needed to find a solution to address the health needs of the population of older adults who were not conversant with technology and/or did not have access to the internet or an email account, both of which were initially required to register for a COVID-19 vaccine. The OSS partnered with Mon Ami, who developed a senior-specific vaccine hotline staffed by volunteers and OSS staff. The vaccine hotline enabled older adults to fully register for their vaccines and schedule their vaccination appointments solely over the phone and without ever having to utilize an email account or the internet.
Mastering digital technology has become a key component of what it means to fully participate in society. This was evident in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to the US population. Vaccine providers often required individuals to register online, with available doses or times quickly disappearing given the demand for vaccines.
This presents a severe challenge for older adults given one-third of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve never used the internet, and half don’t have internet access at home. Of those who do have internet access, nearly half say they need someone else’s help to set up or use a new digital device. Combining these statistics with the relatively difficult websites that were rapidly set up for vaccine registrations, it became nearly impossible for older adults to register for a vaccine without the help of a friend or a family member that had technology fluency. For many older adults, having a friend or family member assist is not an available option.
The Montgomery County Office of Senior Services (OSS) recognized this issue early on. Montgomery County is the third most populous county in Pennsylvania with a population of over 800,000, with 18.2% of their population being 65 years or older. With such a large proportion of the county’s population at risk of being left behind in the vaccine registration process, the OSS knew there needed to be a way for older adults to access vaccines regardless of their technology fluency.
The Montgomery County Office of Senior Services decided to partner with Mon Ami to develop a telephone-based vaccine registration system. The system was designed to enable older adults to register for a vaccine without needing to use the internet or an email address. To staff the phone system, the OSS recruited and trained over 450 volunteers from the county to answer incoming registration calls and to make outbound registration/appointment scheduling calls.
Older adults could call Montgomery County’s designated vaccine hotline to connect with an OSS volunteer. Calls were routed to remote volunteers via Mon Ami’s phone system. Once an older adult was connected, volunteers could navigate the signup process on their behalf and register them for a vaccine appointment.
- Seniors who do not have access to technology could receive life-saving services
All an older adult needed was a telephone. As seniors called into the hotline, volunteers would complete online registration forms on their behalf. Even without a computer, seniors would be able to provide their information and receive a registration confirmation over the phone.
- Volunteers could make and answer calls from home using their personal phones, allowing Montgomery County to quickly scale its hotline operations
With Mon Ami’s hotline technology, volunteers created accounts that synced their personal phone numbers with the hotline. This enabled them to receive calls using their personal device. Rather than setting up physical call stations, volunteers could receive and make calls from the comfort of their homes as long as they logged in to the Mon Ami system. Given the desire to volunteer during the pandemic, and the ease of volunteering from home, the OSS was able to recruit more than 200 volunteers in the first 3 weeks to support the hotline.
- Personal phone numbers were kept private for both the older adults and volunteers
Although volunteers were using their personal phones, it was important that their personal phone numbers were kept private as they staffed the hotline. The Mon Ami hotline masked the personal phone numbers of both the older adult calling and the volunteers. The only number that older adults and volunteers could see on a caller ID was the designated hotline number.
From February - April 2021, the Montgomery County OSS vaccine hotline registered over 2,000 older adults for COVID-19 vaccines, managing over 3,000 inbound calls.
For many volunteers, it was a chance to pay it forward. Ginny Vandenburg, a Souderton resident, and volunteer, said, "My grandmother lives at Dock Woods and hasn't been able to spend time with family in months. After surviving and recovering from COVID, she finally received her vaccination and it's given her hope that she may soon be able to see her great-grandchildren again! I volunteered because I want other seniors to have that same hope."
And other volunteers like Linda Lewis saw it as a way to get active in the community and receive something in return. "I happen to have some computer skills and have been sitting home for the past year bored!!! So volunteering helps me while helping others.... a win, win!!"
With more and more Americans getting vaccinated across the country, the sky looks to be clearing after a long battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, this likely will not be the last time access is needed for older adults when providing essential or public health services. As more and more older adults are equipped with technological fluency, there will still always be a need to build a solution that accommodates and reaches those that aren’t.