Coronavirus Chronicles: UW student helps seniors go digital for health and connection

Nhu Nguyen holds new smart tablets purchased by a TeleHealth Access for Seniors GoFundMe fundraiser.

When she was 15, Nhu Nguyen came with her family to the Northwest from Vietnam, settling first in South Seattle then moving to Edmonds, where she attended Edmonds-Woodway High School and Edmonds College.

Now, at 22, she’s a University of Washington senior, majoring in public and global health — a relevant education in an era of coronavirus. Her unique background informs her studies as well as involvement in a national effort to improve health care for seniors.

Nguyen is the Washington state lead for TeleHealth Access for Seniors, a national, student-run nonprofit that provides seniors and low-income communities with new and used video-enabled devices to connect them to doctors, family and friends.

The program is responding to a new reality: By reducing patient exposure to COVID-19, many medical providers offer telehealth visits in which doctors meet with patients via video conferencing. But often, older patients don’t have the technology or the skills to use this service. TeleHealth Access for Seniors seeks to fill that need. “When I heard about the project in mid-June, I thought this is exactly what I want to do — promote equitable health care,” said Nguyen. “I got involved immediately.”

In addition to providing video-enabled smartphones and tablets, the organization offers printed guides in multiple languages as well as free virtual tech support to help people set up their devices and use telehealth apps.

Nguyen noted that the Washington state chapter of TeleHealth Access for Seniors is seeking grants from several corporate entities including Alaska Airlines, Walmart, Pacific Hospital and the Rotary Club of Seattle. It has already secured support from AT&T and Costco.

“We then purchase devices for distribution to elderly patients at International Community Health Services (ICHS) in Seattle,” Nguyen said.

Devices also go to the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) that provides services to help older people stay in their homes. “ICHS requested a total of 140 devices, and we have donated 60 so far, leaving a remaining need of 80,” Nguyen said. “With grant support, we hope to address as much of this need as possible. Each $60 allows us to purchase a new tablet.”

Nguyen works with 16 other local volunteers, “but I’m the only one from Snohomish County so I’d like to encourage more high-school and college-age students from my area to volunteer,” she said.

Other ways to get involved include donating funds to buy devices or donating used smart phone and tablets.

Meanwhile, Nguyen keeps up with her studies at home, and is scheduled to graduate in 2021. “But I’m thinking of taking a gap year,” she said “I don’t want to miss the opportunity of working in-person at a public health agency in my senior year, and graduation means a lot to me, too.”

For more information, visit the TeleHealth Access for Seniors website at www.telehealthforseniors.org.

— By Connie McDougall

 

 

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