Outreach Call Center helps older residents stay connected during COVID-19

Residents also can receive regular callbacks to ensure they’re OK

The caller had a request on behalf of her neighbors and ended up sharing a craving of her own.

She contacted Henrico County’s Outreach Call Center for Older Residents on Tuesday to see if residents of her retirement community could be made aware of the new service.

She insisted she was fine, despite the self-isolation imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was very cute,” said Tracey Brockwell, who fielded the call. “She said something to the effect of, ‘I’m 86 years old. I’ve lived long enough to know my needs from my wants. I don’t need anything, but I want some ice cream right now.’ ”

 “I wish I could drive some over right now,” Brockwell added.

Henrico activated the call center Monday to assist and lend comfort to residents who may feel uneasy or isolated during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s really just a phone call to offer some friendly contact to those who need it,” said Sara Morris, the county’s advocate for the aging.

The line – 501-5454 – is staffed 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, primarily by employees of Henrico County Public Library.

In addition to reaching a friendly voice or getting a question answered, callers may register to receive additional calls to check on them every day, every other day or every week.

“We’ve had a lot of people jump at the chance to be called more frequently,” Morris said.

The Outreach Call Center stems from Henrico’s EngAGE initiative, which connects older residents and family members to community support and resources and strives to make the county a great place to age. Henrico has more than 51,000 residents age 65 or older, according to 2019 estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s 15.5% of the county’s more than 330,000 residents.

Most of the residents who have called are living alone and are “just feeling a little bit of anxiety and concern about the current climate and are looking for ways to have their spirits lifted,” Morris said.

Several also have expressed a need for food or help getting prescriptions filled. In those instances, they have been connected to church groups that provide food and pharmacies that deliver prescription medications.

Others have had questions about their health or COVID-19 and been directed to a hotline managed by the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. That line – 205-3501 – is staffed 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In addition to those lines, Henrico continues to offer a phone line for questions about county services and operations. The line – 501-5655 – is staffed 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Residents also may submit questions via text message to 376-9780 or get information at henrico.us/coronavirus.

In more than 1,000 inquiries, residents have asked about a variety of topics, including the status of services, court cases and high school graduations as well as the availability of food and issues under the purview of state government.

“It really has been across the board,” said Kurt Jegermanis, a call center manager.

Brockwell, who typically works as an adult reference librarian at Libbie Mill Library, said she sympathizes with callers who simply want a little friendly interaction.

“I definitely miss working with my patrons,” she said. “This is a way I can connect and provide community service, even though we can’t be in the same place.”

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