Smartphones helping vulnerable Edmonton seniors access COVID-19 info, vaccines in outreach program

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Smartphones are helping vulnerable seniors get access to vaccines and accurate information amid the COVID-19 pandemic and are reducing isolation, says an Edmonton outreach group.

The Multicultural Health Brokers Co-Op (MHBC) is raising funds to get more smartphones into the hands of immigrant and refugee seniors who know little to no English, have limited financial resources and often don’t qualify for government benefits. The program is a “lifeline” for the seniors’ mental health and ensures they can access government services online, according to a GoFundMe.

But the emergency COVID-19 funds for 32 seniors’ phones have run out. They are also hoping to raise $25,000 through donations for 16 more phones with a data plan through the online fundraiser.

Broker Zhewar Hama says that, because he helped a group of Arabic- and Kurdish-speaking seniors get smartphones before the pandemic, he could get them the accurate and up-to-date information about COVID-19 and vaccines they need using a WhatsApp group.


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“They’re just calling me (asking) how to book a vaccination … so I send them to the site, they fill out the forms and they send it. It just makes their life way easier,” he said.

“They get (translated) information on a day-to-day basis from Alberta Health … so they get more accurate information and they can stay safe.”

Hama has been teaching seniors digital literacy skills since 2019. The group he supports previously bought their own phones, but others helped by MHBC cannot afford their own devices. He says smartphones are essential to them.

With devices, these seniors can now use GPS and venture out on their own for errands and to medical appointments. Sometimes the seniors contact him via video call and he translates for them on-site.

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“They can (now) use a taxi or Uber to get around and to get vaccinated or buy groceries. They are out instead of staying at home — they’re less scared,” he said.

“When they go to vaccination centres, they open the camera (on their phones) and I talk to the nurse giving them the shot … so I’m (translating) on-site so they feel safer.”

Hama also makes the phones more accessible by removing complicated apps, making the text bigger and downloading useful apps such as pill timers and YouTube for English instruction videos. One man wanted to lose weight so he helped him find an app for that, too, he said.


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But even before the pandemic, smartphones helped the seniors stay connected with loved ones.

Hama said one senior’s elderly mother was dying and he couldn’t see her in person, but he was able to talk to her on the phone before she died.

‘”He was like ‘because of you, I didn’t miss my mom because I was there with her, at least virtually,’” Hama said.

“So that story really hits me and made me go harder (to) try to help more seniors because I know all of them need it.”

He said another senior was able to do his Canadian citizenship ceremony with a smartphone.

MHBC helps seniors in 15 communities, including Bhutanese, Eritrean/Ethiopian, Former Yugoslavian, Korean, Karen, Kurdish, Iraqi, Oromo, Romanian, Russian-speaking, Somali, Spanish-speaking, South Sudanese and Syrian.

On Twitter: @laurby


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