Phone Assurance — Making the right call

A new service has been added to the RSVP family
By Rachel Robles, Lifestyles Editor | Mar 25, 2014
Photo by: Rachel Robles MAKING THE RIGHT CALL — Pictured from left are Roland Bazinet, Jon Parsons, Kim Gardner, Carol Grace and Torrie Murphy. The Phone Assurance program is picking up steam at the Senior Resource Center.

A new service has been added to the large family of services that fall under the umbrella of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) — the Phone Assurance program.

Phone Assurance provides free telephone reassurance, check-in and friendly phone calls to seniors who may be isolated or who are in need of someone to touch base with them to ensure their wellbeing and/or to have a friendly conversation on a regularly scheduled basis.

“Isolation of a senior can lead to self-neglect and open them up for exploitation from family, neighbors, friends, outside strangers,” said Kim Gardner, project coordinator at the Senior Resource Center. “So this is a very important role in keeping our seniors safe in their home in the community.”

Individuals may self-refer of be referred by a caregiver, family member or service provider. Phone Assurance is intended to serve area seniors who are homebound, isolated, living alone or otherwise in need of daily contact to ensure personal safety.

“The whole thinking with the government is person-centered care, staying at home, because it’s a lot cheaper than to go to a facility,” said Gardner. “There are a lot of resources in the community meant to help keep people at home and keep them safe.”

RSVP is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and over. The Phone Assurance program has been in existence in Haywood County for a couple of years, but now that it’s a part of RSVP, it receives federal funding. Being a federal program makes Phone Assurance more structured and it provides coverage to the volunteers in case they’re injured while volunteering.

“The volunteers have a support system,” said Torrie Murphy, RSVP coordinator. “They can call the staff here to say, ‘Hey, this is going on with my client. What do I do?’ And we help them facilitate the resource connections. If their client needs insurance information, we have Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) volunteers who can do that. If they need food stamps or social services, we can help. If they’ve got a neighbor or somebody coming over borrowing money or something, we can get them to law enforcement.”

All new volunteers are put through orientation and training.

“We’ll go through things like phone etiquette and what to ask because we don’t want to be intrusive,” said Jon Parsons, grants manager for Mountain Projects. “Kim Gardner visits the folks who are the clients and try to get a sense of who they are and how many times a week they want to be called and what their safety issues are. So we do an in-person interview with the client and we try to match them.”

What makes a good volunteer?

“Someone who’s willing to spend a little time on the phone and likes to listen,” said Parsons.

But Phone Assurance does more than just provide a service; it creates connections.

“What you’re giving is time and attention,” said Murphy. “And that’s what a lot of these seniors need and want — time and attention. For example, one volunteer is helping her client put her memories down in writing.

“It’s whatever that catalyst is of having somebody to talk to and do something instead of just sitting around being lonely and depressed,” said Murphy.

Carol Grace has been a volunteer with Phone Assurance for about two years. She has two clients, both in their 80s, who calls every day.

“We all want to feel like we can contribute something. What’s great about this is that I don’t have to leave home to do it,” said Grace, who lives in Beaverdam. “And I think that’s important because if people realize that they can volunteer — maybe they can’t get out because they don’t have a car or have access to transportation or they have to take care of a loved one — this way they can feel like they’re doing something for the community. We all want to give back.”

Roland Bazinet is another volunteer who greatly enjoys helping the program. He calls one client every morning at 7 a.m., even on the weekends, to make sure he’s doing okay.

Bazinet had an experience in Sarasota, Florida, that has stayed with him and drives him to volunteer.

“I’d met this gentleman who was 90-years old; the nicest man you’d ever meet,” said Bazinet. “I hadn’t seen him in awhile, so I got on my motorcycle and went over to his house. When I got there, he was freezing.” He was able to contact the man’s family and get him to a hospital.

“I never forgot that experience,” said Bazinet. “It was a very spiritual thing. It just stayed with me.”

And it’s the assurance of having human contact that makes the program so desirable.

Thomasine Phillips, 77, lives alone in Canton. She is called seven days a week and has participated in the Phone Assurance program for a year.

“The reason I did it is because I don’t have family in the area and I live alone,” said Phillips. “I got to thinking that something could happen to me but nobody would know for days.”

Seniors who are interested in signing up for Phone Assurance are asked to call Gardner at 356-2816. Those who are interested in volunteering are asked to call Murphy at 356-2834.

“It doesn’t cost anything,” said Murphy. “You’re not making a donation. You’re not having to go work in a kitchen. You’re able to stand there and call and talk to them and give them your undivided attention, and that’s all they really want — that somebody they know is listening to them.”

Comments (14)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 25, 2014 19:22

Wait a minute.  Our public funds are broke and we're spending money on an organization that calls people?  And the volunteers who are calling people are covered in case they are injured while calling people?


How is this government organization measured on effectiveness and efficiency?  Can we point to the money spent here and say we got at least that much benefit from this organization?  If there is a complaint that schools aren't funded enough, if there is a complain that social security increases aren't enough, if there is a complaint that there's not enough unemployment benefit, then we ought to be comforted to know that at least our seniors have someone other than pesky family, neighbors, friends, church members, or telemarketers calling them.  For that, I'm glad to give up part of my paycheck for the taxes it takes to pay for this.


(I'm sure it's a good program -- I just prefer that my taxes would go to something a little more meaningful.)

Posted by: Linda Sexton | Mar 27, 2014 08:30

Wow, I hope that you are never alone.  I hope for your sake that you always have a pesky family who care whether you are alive or dead.  May you always have neighbors, friends, and church members who are not too busy with their own lives to stop and check-in with you.  For the rest of humanity who live in our rural setting who don't have this back-up, a phone call from a volunteer is likely the most meaningful expression of caring that they get all day.  Compared to some wasteful things my tax dollars are spent on, I am glad my tax dollars are spent helping someone to have a day where they feel valued.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 27, 2014 09:08

Ms. Sexton, Thank you for your concern.  I also hope never to be "alone".  And for those that are alone, I think community volunteers reaching out on the phone could be a GREAT way to better connect our community.  In fact, I know police departments do what they call "welfare check" to be sure the elderly are ok.  But I'm curious, for a company who's mission is to call older people, how should it "provide coverage to the volunteers in case they’re injured while volunteering"?  Will someone sprain their wrist while picking up the phone and need to file a workers comp claim?  How is this wise use of taxpayer money?  Couldn't the United Way or other charitable organization fund this group?  Could a church sponsor this group?  Can it survive on donations from people who think this service is so valuable to the community?  Use a gold-standard metric to consider the question: If you won't spend YOUR money on this mission, why would you spend someone else's money on it?  Have YOU donated any of YOUR money to them?


"Compared to some wasteful things my tax dollars are spent on" -- So PLEASE call out wasteful spending publicly!  Taxes will only go up if nobody challenges wasteful spending.


If the intent for this organization is to make people "feel valued", although that's a very fine goal likely carried out by some very nice people, I can't say that we should be taking money from people to force their support of it -- especially if the Haywood County shelter might need just a little more of those limited resources to spay and neuter some animals.


That's the kind of decision-making that was so wisely raised here:


We can't have "everything" -- we have to be selective and smart about where our taxes go.  We can't keep taking on programs that cost money or else we will never get out of debt and we will have to continually raise taxes.  Everything we spend tax money on is just something else that tax money can't do.  My opinion (and you're also entitled to yours) is that we shouldn't be spending limited tax money on this.  Find another source of funding and my concern shrivels up.


(I do wish this group all the best and hope they earn large amounts of praise from the community and as much private funding as they need.)

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 27, 2014 09:27

PS -- I wouldn't want to dilute the mission of what this fine group of people are trying to do.  But wouldn't it be interesting if instead of phoning the elderly that are alone, this group would phone those that SHOULD be checking on those elderly that are alone?  If an older person goes without anyone checking on them for 2 weeks, wouldn't it be great if someone would call their son or daughter and give them a nasty guilt trip until they checked in with them regularly?  Wouldn't it be great if someone called their neighbors to ask, "When is the last time you checked on your neighbor?"  Now THAT might fix the problem rather than put a bandage on it!  Guilt and pressure family and neighbors into doing what family and neighbors ought to do!  I'm just sayin!  :-)


Posted by: Rachel Robles | Mar 27, 2014 09:50

Scott, what I didn't mention in the article is that the program is funded by a grant from the Lowry Murphey Family Foundation.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Mar 27, 2014 09:54

                 This is exactly the type of programs that me proud to be an American. It fulfills the "General Wellfare" of "Liberty" as provided by the "Social Contract". We the people have an obligation to each other. It is obviously not an obligation all care to support. This is OUR obligation directly. Not the relatives or neighbors.




Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 27, 2014 09:59

"funded by a grant from the Lowry Murphey Family Foundation" -- THANK YOU, Ms. Robles!  I am onboard now 100%.  I misunderstood: "it receives federal funding" to suggest "taxpayer federal funding".  Best wishes to Phone Assurance.  (And if you get a chance to guilt people or remind people into checking on the elderly as they should, please do that!)

Posted by: Torrie Murphy | Mar 27, 2014 10:41

RSVP is a federal grant through National and Community Service and a sibling program of Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs called Senior Corps.

RSVP is a very small grant, sponsored by Mountain Projects, that allows individuals 55 and over to volunteer in their community, assisting in many areas like delivering meals for Meals on Wheels, at the hospital and hospice, Haywood Christian Ministries SHIIP, etc. Mileage reimbursement is one of the benefits RSVP allows. The volunteers bring an expertise of support in these agencies delivering service to the community that couldn't happen otherwise because of limited funding. Volunteers do amazing things nationwide and Phone Assurance is a program that is moving under the RSVP program. It is possible through a grant from the Lowry Murphey Family Foundation and each RSVP volunteer member receives, free to them, supplemental accident and liability insurance; to, from and during their volunteer time. Many Phone Assurance volunteers have assisted their clients in much more than just a daily phone call, facilitating the access to the help that is needed or actually visiting the client themselves. The supplemental insurance is a good thing in the event that occurs. Aging in Place, at home, is a very important ability and Phone Assurance assists that to be available for more seniors in our community.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 27, 2014 11:27

"each RSVP volunteer member receives, free to them, supplemental accident and liability insurance" -- What a nice benefit to offer your volunteers.  I'm accustomed to just reporting unreimbursed mileage and expenses on my tax return -- when I remember it.  (I too often don't.)


"Aging in Place, at home" -- So for a "public benefit" idea, if Phone Assurance can keep people safely at home longer instead of a "rest home", (sorry, I don't know the appropriate term for an "end of life" facility) and someone can create a measurable savings for that benefit, it could be argued that public funding might save the taxpayer whatever it would cost for a "rest home".


Could it also be said that this move is a consolidation of sorts?  Bringing a social program under a consolidated umbrella of more social programs with more shared benefit like insurance and oversight?  If so, that's one way a "conservative" would celebrate this as a welcomed evolution of the program.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Mar 27, 2014 13:40

                         Brother in law was diagnosed with stage 4 inoperable cancer on his birthday, Sept 11. He underwent 2 1/2 weeks of radiation treatment for 20 tumors on his brain. Va. handed him off to local Hospice. These everyday angels were of priceless benefit having to deal with more than just a few people that were approaching death. While boobied-half and I had moved in to Bill's house to care for him 24/7, several representatives of Hospice paid him visits and called to see how we were doing. We had to omit Bill to the local Hospice home by the Hospital. He was released because Medicare only permits 3 days of such care. After returning home, he deteriated fast. He was admitted again and passed in the Hospice house. I would not wish the experience on anyone. I cannot praise the actions of Hospice folks enough. No amount of money can properly award them. How fortunate We are that OUR govt. provides such a service.

                Conservative sister-in-law is going thru similar situation with preacher husband. They refuse to have a do not resuscitate order signed and refuse Hospice care. She tore a muscle in her chest caring for him. He was refusing nurses to touch him. Has had small intestine removed. Prostate next. On oxygen at level 4 which is a lot. While he has Medicare/caid, there will be a huge amount of left over bills she will not be able to pay. Very unfortunate situation. They are not alone by any means. While OUR various Social programs help alleviate "All persons" pain and suffering and help prevent unfortunate from going bankrupt, if they are not adequetly used it is not OUR fault though Society will have to make up for the shortfall.





Posted by: Linda Sexton | Mar 28, 2014 09:03

Glad to see the pot stirred up and for the info that this was grant money, which I already knew.  Mr. Lilly, I just want to be sure that you are aware that the Haywood County Animal Shelter does not spay/neuter any animals.  Talk about a dept. that is underfunded.  Spay/neuter is paid for by the folks who adopt an animal and by Sarge's Animal Welfare Foundation.  Sarge's keeps the cost low for our residents who adopt from the shelter by subsidizing the spay/neuter of these animals.  Haywood Spay/Neuter offers low-cost spay/neuter and wellness programs for pets to residents of Haywood County.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 28, 2014 09:32

"Spay/neuter is paid for by the folks who adopt an animal and by Sarge's Animal Welfare Foundation." -- I recognize you, Ms. Sexton, as an expert on the matter.  If I had a pet, I would get it spayed/neutered at Haywood Spay/Neuter.  (Would it be out of bounds to bring in a neighbor's pet to get Spayed/Neutered?  Would they be able to tell?  -- I'm just kidding!)

Posted by: Linda Sexton | Mar 29, 2014 08:44

Thank you for the compliment.  As for being out of bounds to bring in a neighbor's pet, please go to and look at the info. on TNR.  If you are having a problem with cats in your neighborhood, TNR is a wonderful way to "fix" the problem!  If it is a dog, that is a harder problem.  If you can talk to the neighbor, you can always offer to help transport their pet to HSN for it's fix.  Often folks just don't have the ability to get their pet there, but are willing to have help doing so. I invite you to come in to the office on April 3rd at noon, which is when the next transport returns, to see what it is like.  I think you would find it an uplifting experience.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Mar 29, 2014 10:01

               When I was farming in Northern Indiana, I lived on road that was connecter/shortcut to the factories west of Warsaw and the North side of town. I had about 3/4 of a mile of frontage. It was used as a dumping ground for trash and critters. County limited resources to animal care. I dispatched them, humanely. At harvest I began noticing on the west side of my field small carcasses and pans. After several years, I stood by my evergreens and waited. Sure enough, here come a car that stopped and a little girl got out with 4 puppies and two pans of food and water. When she was safely back in the car, I picked off all 4 puppies, one at a time. As the car went past my house, I walked toward the road with the rifle in hand so they knew it was me. The little girl had her face between her hands against the window. That was the end of that. A lesson that should never had been learned. A couple of years latter, I found several bags of trash in my ditch. I found several items with address on them. I looked-up phone number and gave them 24 hrs to clean up their mess before I called the police. It was the same folks.

             About every other year we had to deal with packs of wild dogs that resulted from people dumping puppies and/or pregnant females in the country. the incurrance of coyotes pretty much ended that, except that they crossbred with the wild dogs. I once shot a coyote-german shepard cross that was 6-7 ft. long, 125 lbs. or more. One scarey sob! Size of a shepard with teeth and claws of a coyote. Jet black.

             On the west side of my sire's farm, I began having a young female coyote waiting for me as I drove the various critters ahead of me while knifing in NH3, planting, cultivating/fertilizing/applying herbicides, harvesting. She was timid and pretty. Against Society's better interests, I couldn't shoot her. She had done nothing against me.



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