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Spotlight on Innovations and Achievements: San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services

Learn how this California AAA helps older adults stay engaged and connected to the community, family and friends, and manage their health and well-being through technology to prevent social isolation and loneliness.

We're proud to highlight the award-winning work of the 2020 winners of n4a's Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards in this weekly spotlight feature. This week, we are focusing on the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services' Technology and Connections at Home program. The agency was a 2020 Aging Innovations Award winner in the Social Engagement category. The AIA Awards are made possible thanks to the support of Centene.
 
Maintaining social connections is key to reducing social isolation and loneliness among older adults. The Technology and Connections at Home program enables older adults to manage their health and their well-being in the comforts of their home. During the one-year San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services (DAS) program, participants are loaned iPads, Fitbits and digital scales, participate in weekly technology classes and receive access to health support and health coaching at Curry Senior Center, a local DAS provider.
 
At the end of the year, participants who meet specific eligibility criteria receive their own personal device and, if needed, financial assistance to offset the cost of one year of in-home internet access. Reflecting the community, the program is offered in English, Chinese and Russian. The Technology and Connections at Home program supports older adults in making lifestyle changes, mitigates feelings of loneliness, builds confidence in their own abilities by mastering technology and provides a way for participants to connect with friends and family using technology.
 
Participants very much like the class—the instructors, fellow students, the experience of learning together, as well as tell us how much they like working with the health coaches, who support their well-being and health,” said Tiffany Kearney, Program Analyst, at the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services. “I have noticed the immense impact of the Fitbit. It has inspired participants to walk more and burn calories, track their sleep to monitor certain health conditions and remain connected to others socially with similar goals.”
 
In FY 2019–2020, two cohorts totaling 28 participants completed the program. After the program, 57 percent reported an increase in self-efficacy in managing their health, 77 percent of Fitbit users reported an increase in their daily movement and 73 percent who screened as lonely reported a decrease in loneliness. Participants reported an increase in confidence in using the internet (93 percent) and iPads (100 percent).
 
The Technology and Connections at Home health coaching moved to phone calls and Zoom at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with curriculum taught by videos uploaded to a YouTube channel. The iPads provide resources that are essential at this time, such as online information, video calling apps and health portal access. The staff also send weekly emails containing exercise options, ways to reduce stress and healthy eating tips to participants and use weekly Zoom hangouts to facilitate communication. If needed, in-person tech support is offered with staff and clients following social distancing guidelines.
 
“During quarantine it really saved my life to have an iPad to keep me company. The isolation was unbearable but knowing I could FaceTime and now Zoom with my grandchild in Pittsburgh and my niece in Oregon has been wonderful. I also exercise with the help of YouTube, participate in a Zoom art group hosted by the University of California San Francisco and my In-Home Supportive Services caretaker talks to me though FaceTime, so I actually take my medications on time,” said a participant of the program.
 
If another AAA were to create a similar program, DAS recommends starting with a small pilot program. Technology interventions can be overwhelming for an agency to tackle as a new program. Organizations should research low-cost home internet options for participants, reach out to local businesses that might be interested in underwriting technology costs and establish strong, clear and long-lasting incentives for the program to keep your participants engaged.
 
To learn more about the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services' Technology and Connections at Home program, contact Tiffany Kearney, tiffany.kearney@sfgov.org.
 
For more information about the 2020 winners, see the press release and read the book of winners! To read about past winners and find other best practices for your agency to consider, visit our Best Practices page.

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