A call a day may keep the doctor away

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Talia Denicoff

A new program provides older Fairfax County residents with daily phone calls from volunteers to address their social and emotional needs, provide medication reminders, help prevent neglect, and provide a connection with others.

The program, called CareRing 2.0, is provided by volunteers through the nonprofit Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (PRS).

PRS Program Director Laura Mayer said that these phone calls give the clients emotional support and can help them deal with stress.

“It’s more than just a check-in. These are relationships that they’re building with us,” Mayer said. “They can start to deal with some of the bigger issues that they might be facing, such as complex grief or interpersonal issues with adult children or other people in their lives. It’s definitely more of a social call than it is a medical call.”

Assessing problems

CareRing 2.0 volunteers are able to make mental health assessments of their clients in addition to having a friendly conversation with them.

“We’re doing clinical assessments on their depression levels and their suicide risk,” Mayer said. “We’re also doing assessments on their environment. Do they have working lights, working water, do they have food, do they have the ability to wash their clothes and have bedding and things like that? We are looking at a lot of things that can influence their overall well-being.”

When a volunteer recognizes a risk the client faces, they advocate for services that will help with the identified issue. Volunteers refer their clients to primary care doctors if they do not have one already. And if they identify that a client has depression or anxiety, they refer them to the appropriate care while continuing to provide daily phone calls.

Connecting with clients

Mary (who didn’t want her last name used), a volunteer from Washington, D.C., makes about three CareRing calls a day. Since she has started calling her clients, Mary has made personal connections with them and says she looks forward to her daily conversations.

“Sometimes you call people, and they feel really down at the beginning of the call, and you can tell they’re not having that great of a day,” she said.

“Then they start to talk to you about their day, or they remember something that happened, or you just get on a random topic like music or a movie they saw, and you can hear that they start to get really happy. Sometimes they get really excited and start talking really fast.”

Mayer said that by asking clients specific questions about their wellbeing every day, volunteers are able to track their client’s “moods and their level of feeling connected.” Usually within the first two weeks, positive changes in the clients’ moods are being reported.

Currently, CareRing 2.0 has 10 volunteers and five clients. PRS hopes to enroll up to 40 clients, and will hire more volunteers as necessary.

Fairfax County residents 60 and older are eligible to become clients. Arlington County residents are eligible for a similar telephone support program called CareRing/S.O.S. Plus.

Enrollment forms and volunteer information are available online at www.prsinc.org or by calling (703) 516-6769.