Dr. Clifford Baker, a pain management physician practicing in Sun City for more than 10 years, is on the frontline of healthcare and hoping to save lines of seniors by giving them free smartphones. His medical practice, Novaspine Pain Institute, sees more than 4,000 patients per month, of which the majority are seniors over the age of 65. About 75% of all COVID19-related deaths have been in seniors, with retirement and independent living communities showing alarming clusters of cases in the West Valley. Physicians across the country have been stressing the importance for seniors to stay at home and participate in doctor’s visits through telehealth, which integrates audio and video technology, through applications such as zoom or skype.
According to Dr. Baker, “Smartphones can literally save lives by keeping seniors at home, away from medical offices and public places where the exposure risk is high to our patients. They can receive the exact same medical care while in the comfort of their own homes. This is necessary to help contain the spread of COVID19. The main problem with telehealth lies in the lack of technology and access to the internet. Many seniors still only have landlines, no internet access at all, struggle with the technology of smartphones, or simply cannot afford one.”
The missing link became clear as telehealth visits became critical to keeping patients away from medical offices. To bridge the gap, Dr. Baker created the nonprofit organization Novacare Foundation and donated $10,000 to launch their campaign for giving free smartphones to seniors who do not have one or cannot afford one. The phones are fully registered with unlimited calling, data and text and volunteers are teaching seniors how to properly use them. So far, more than 50 phones have been given to seniors in the West Valley to help keep them connected to their doctors and families.
Health care experts continue to recommend that seniors and those with underlying medical conditions stay at home and avoid contact with others, in addition to wearing a mask. This form of self-quarantine is a harsh reality for many seniors living in retirement communities and hoping to make the most of their golden years. As Dr Baker states, “The sad reality is that we must encourage seniors to even avoid having direct contact with their own families and friends. The majority of people who contract COVID19, as much as 80%, are minimally symptomatic or completely asymptomatic. Through no fault of their own, they may unknowingly infect their loved ones and seniors, who are much more likely to have complications from COVID19.” Studies show that approximately 75% of all COVID19 related deaths have been in persons over the age of 65.
Self-isolation or quarantine is however a double-edged sword, with studies showing increased rates of depression, anxiety, in addition to concerns for increased rates of suicide. “No one should ever feel alone, especially our seniors, who have contributed to society and earned their retirement. Our hope is that smartphones will allow our seniors to stay connected to their loved ones and family through apps like Zoom or Skype. They can use these phones however they wish. Ultimately, if we can save one life by giving away free smartphones, it will absolutely be worth the effort. We can and must do more, so much more, whatever it takes to save the lives of our seniors.”
Novacare foundation has created a GoFundMe page to allow donations to be made towards giving free smartphones to seniors. Visit novacarefoundation.org or call 623-252-6646.