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.”