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Offering Telephone Reassurance Programs

older woman holding a telephone handset

What is a Telephone Reassurance Program?

They may go by many names — Telephone Reassurance, Friendly Caller, Phone-a-Friend, Outreach Calls, Check-in Calls — but they all strive to accomplish the same goal. Telephone Reassurance Programs are designed to connect people in need with ongoing, caring human contact and conversation. Often they are aimed at populations who may be at risk of loneliness, social isolation, or illness or injury such as falls. Typically these programs offer their services to:

  • Older Adults/Seniors
  • Individuals who are homebound
  • People living with disabilities or severe and persistent mental illnesses who may have limited social contacts and supports

While service offerings and details will vary from program to program, they commonly offer dependable—often scheduled to occur at a certain time—outgoing phone calls to enrolled individuals. Program volunteers or staff call the individual to say hello and offer a friendly chat. Calls might occur daily, several times per week, or weekly. Individuals enrolled in such programs take comfort in conversation and hearing from a caring voice on a regular basis. They may wish to talk about their family, activities and news of the day, fond memories from their past, or anything else that may be on their mind. Some programs incorporate safety check tasks for the volunteer during the call, such as making sure a client has taken their medication as scheduled or ensuring that they haven’t fallen or become ill. In some instances, Telephone Reassurance Programs institute safety procedures such as requesting wellness checks from the appropriate responders if the client does not answer their calls.

Why Are Telephone Reassurance Programs Needed?

Social isolation is a major public health issue for older adults. While COVID-19 brought renewed attention to the problem, and may have worsened loneliness and isolation for some people, the problem itself is not new. Numerous research studies dating back many decades warn of the prevalence of social isolation, especially among older adults, and the subsequent health problems it may contribute to. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or cognitive decline, and even death. A 2012 poll by the John A. Hartford Foundation found that nearly 1 in 3 of survey participants over age 65 assumed that depression was a normal and expected part of the aging process (it is not). The poll also found that physicians and other professionals in regular contact with seniors did not effectively screen for depression or provide adequate communication and follow-up regarding mental health care. Social isolation and the associated depression can place an individual at higher risk of death by suicide. Studies show that people aged 45-64 and 65 and older have the highest rates of suicide among all age groups.

Telephone Reassurance Programs ease social isolation and feelings of loneliness, and therefore could reduce the associated health risks. Properly trained volunteers and staff of a Telephone Reassurance Program could recognize signs and symptoms of depression in program participants and take steps to connect them with education, assistance, resources and treatment that may ultimately prevent suicide. The social connections and safety checks associated with a Telephone Reassurance Program can also help older adults age in place and maintain their independence.

What Agencies Operate Telephone Reassurance Programs?

Many different types of social service or community-based organizations may be qualified to start a Telephone Reassurance Program. Given their expertise on the needs of older adults, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Departments of Aging, and Area Agencies on Aging are one natural fit to operate a Telephone Reassurance Program. Organizations focused on improving mental health are another clear fit, especially if the Telephone Reassurance Program will also aim to help those who are socially isolated due to severe and persistent mental illness. Sometimes Telephone Reassurance Programs are co-located and offered as a program under the umbrella of a crisis center or warmline service where volunteers are already well-trained in providing empathetic listening and can multitask taking inbound calls to the hotline with making outbound calls for the Reassurance Program.

There are some existing programs that offer their services nationwide. However many experts advocate for more localized programs because they can focus on the specific needs of their communities and provide expertise in other resources available to clients locally. Local Telephone Reassurance Programs can also more easily participate in continuity of care and care coordination among multiple local agencies of which the client may be receiving services.

What Are the Top Needs of Telephone Reassurance Programs?

Agencies operating a Telephone Reassurance Program needs tools that can help them:
  • Recruit, Train, and Manage Volunteers and Staff
  • Maintain a Shift Schedule for Volunteers/Staff to provide adequate staffing during program hours
  • Enable Volunteers/Staff to work remotely
  • Enroll clients in the program and manage their information
  • Create and manage the call schedule so that no clients are missed or forgotten
  • Document notes and other important data during calls
  • Assess for depression, suicide, and other health risks
  • Connect program clients with resource and referral information when needed
  • Conduct satisfaction surveys and collect outcome data from participants
  • Generate reports for funders, administrators, stakeholders, and others

iCarol Can Help!

Using iCarol, organizations operating a Telephone Reassurance Program can:

  • Accept Volunteer/Staff Applications Online
  • Manage Volunteer/Staff information and keep records on their hours worked, trainings completed, certifications due for renewal, etc.
  • Invite clients or their caregivers to fill out online intake/inquiries to enroll in the program
  • Schedule Volunteers/Staff for their shifts at the Telephone Reassurance Program
  • Enable Volunteers/Staff to work and make calls from anywhere
  • Keep records on clients enrolled in the program
  • Create easy-to-follow call schedules ensuring clients are called at the right time
  • Take notes and document information during the calls
  • Connect program clients or their caregivers with additional local resources
  • Send resources by Email or SMS/Text
  • Follow-up or have conversations with program participants through 2-way texting
  • Participate in continuity of care by securely sharing data with community-based organizations or partner entities
  • And much more!

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