As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the Houston region, an increasing number of doctors have transitioned to telehealth or virtual healthcare to safely meet their patients’ needs.
A recent high school graduate from the area is working to make sure Fort Bend County’s highest-risk population for the disease can utilize the service while decreasing their risk of catching the coronavirus.
Joanna Yu, a 2019 graduate ate of Elkins High School who is attending Emory University in Atlanta, began partnering with the Texas chapter of student-created nonprofit TeleHealth Access for Seniors in July.
The organization, which collects camera-enabled devices for elderly patients to access telehealth care, was created in March specifically in response to the effects of COVID-19. Student leaders in 26 states collect, sanitize and donate old phones, tablets and laptops to clinics so they can be given to patients. Donated devices, instructions and free tech-support connect seniors to their physicians via telehealth, friends and family using digital connectivity and wellness tools via apps, according to Yu.
“We’re aiming to try and keep elderly people home instead of risking infections and death,” she said.
Since its inception, TeleHealth Access for Seniors has donated more than 1,500 devices and worked with 75 community and veterans clinics throughout the country, including the HOPE Clinic in in Houston, with the help of students like Yu according to their website.
Yu said she heard about the organization from a college classmate in the Georgia chapter earlier this year, and believed it to be the perfect combination of her undergraduate focus – medicine and public health – and desire to help her community mitigate COVID-19.
Fort Bend County officials have reported 7,287 cases of the infectious disease caused by the new coronavirus strain as of Tuesday. At least 100 people have died from the disease, while 3,497 patients have recovered. About 37 percent of Fort Bend’s COVID-19 cases have been reported in residents who are at least 50 years old, according to the county.
“I thought that during the summer I’d have nothing to do, but I really wanted to help with the coronavirus,” she said. “(This cause) was perfect because it involved public health as well as being able to give back to my community.”
After collection and sanitization, devices are delivered to various clinics and VA hospitals to distribute to their older patients and veterans, along with a guide created by the nonprofit for the seniors on how to connect and use their new device.
“I know that for a lot of seniors, they go in person or the doctors come to their house,” Yu said. “But with the virus going around and trying to limit exposure, I think it’s really important for them to be able to use this instead of having to go in person.”
Yu said TeleHealth Access for Seniors is unique in its mission in the sense that anyone can donate in any manner they choose. Whether it’s recycling their unused phone remnants or donating to the organization’s GoFundMe account, it allows Texans and Fort Bend residents to help their vulnerable community safely receive the help they need.
For more information on Telehealth Access for Seniors or to donate to the cause, visit telehealthforseniors.org/.
“Millions of people have old devices, but don’t really know what to do with them, so they’re just sitting at home,” Yu said. “I think it’s important to give it to someone who needs it.”