When COVID-19 shut down cities across the United States in early 2020, Factor Health was only weeks from launching our first program with Meals on Wheels Central Texas to support homebound older adults in their homes with medically-tailored meals. In response to city shut down orders, Meals on Wheels stopped production and delivery of hot meals (opting to provide clients with shelf-stable food every 2 weeks) and suspended the social connection component of meal delivery.
While they were still able to provide food, Meals on Wheels staff expressed concern that their clients, already home-bound and isolated pre-COVID, would grow even more isolated without the usual friendly connection during meal delivery. Social isolation, a health concern not currently covered by healthcare payers, can produce or exacerbate lasting health consequences like chronic disease and depression. In response to this, Factor Health and Meals on Wheels partnered to create a new short-term program to address loneliness in home-bound older adults during COVID-19.
This new program officially launched in July 2020 when Factor Health began training volunteers with tools to develop empathy and social connection. After completing training, volunteers call Meals on Wheels clients up to 5 times per week to check-in and chat for up to 10 minutes. Volunteers work with each client to customize calls to the client’s schedule and to find the right number of calls per week (between 2 and 5) that will meet the client’s needs – this customization is a standout component of this program.
The program will end in September 2020, and we will assess how the phone calls impacted client loneliness, measuring a range of mental health and quality of life outcomes through standardized clinically-relevant measurement tools. We expect that the results will inform our other work and will help us further refine another Factor Health and Meals on Wheels program that aims to address diabetes management at home for older adults during less tumultuous times. In addition, we also plan on iterating the loneliness program as a stand-alone offering for health payers in the future.