As Older Adults Reel From COVID Isolation, SCAN Health Plan Launches One-of-a-Kind Togetherness Program
Date Posted: 05/19/2021
‘We’ve got members who haven’t hugged another person in more than a year,’ says new Chief Togetherness Officer.
LONG BEACH, Calif., May 19, 2021— Recognizing the effects of widespread social isolation among seniors brought on by the COVID pandemic, SCAN Health Plan, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, is launching a unique Togetherness Program aimed at reducing loneliness. Unlike other programs, SCAN’s will rely on senior to senior interactions to reduce isolation among SCAN’s membership.
Even before the pandemic, more than 40 percent of older American adults reported feeling lonely on a regular basis. Since March of 2020, social distancing requirements as well as high death rates among older adults have left seniors feeling alone and starved for human companionship. One in four adults ages 65 and older reported anxiety or depression during the pandemic—up dramatically from pre-pandemic levels.
“We’ve got members who haven’t hugged another person in more than a year,” said Lisbeth Briones-Roberts, who is overseeing SCAN’s program as the organization’s chief togetherness officer. “We know they need our help reconnecting with people and rediscovering shared meaning with others who can relate to and have a unique understanding of their personal experiences.”
Loneliness is one of the most pernicious—and often ignored—health issues in America. Seniors who report feeling lonely have a 45 percent increased risk of mortality. In fact, researchers have determined that being lonely is as dangerous to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“Loneliness is a health problem, and that’s exactly how we’re going to treat it,” said Dr. Sachin Jain, president and CEO of SCAN Group and SCAN Health Plan. “So in keeping with SCAN’s mission to keep our members healthy and independent, we’ve designed a Togetherness program that will decrease loneliness and isolation by establishing meaningful social bonds among our members.”
SCAN’s program differs significantly from those of other healthcare organizations in that it is grounded in peer-to-peer interactions—which have long been the hallmark of SCAN’s care model. Since 2016, Peer Advocates, who are SCAN members as well as SCAN employees, have regularly reached out to plan members to discuss common issues of aging, connect them to community resources, and support them in navigating the healthcare system.
Data shows that talking to peers with whom they can relate and share common experiences has benefited SCAN members. In 2018, Peer Advocate interventions increased the number of members seeking treatment for urinary incontinence by 25%. (Urinary incontinence is a common issue that keeps many seniors from engaging in social activities.) Peer interventions have also helped members become more physically active, address mobility issues and seek treatment for a variety of mental health issues.
“We know that our Peer Advocates have helped thousands of SCAN members live healthier, more independent lives by seeking treatment for some of the most common ailments affecting seniors,” said Briones-Roberts. “So we’re building on what we know works and using our experience and expertise to improve health outcomes related to loneliness and social isolation.”
Among the programs that SCAN will offer its members are:
- Virtual and in-person classes and activities based around shared interests
- “Friendly Phoner,” a program through which Peer Advocates and SCAN employee volunteers will regularly reach out to members by telephone
- “Tech Buddy,” support for people who want to use tablets and other digital devices to connect with other people
About SCAN Health Plan
SCAN Health Plan is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, serving more than 220,000 members in California. Since its founding in 1977, SCAN has been a mission-driven organization dedicated to keeping seniors healthy and independent. Independence at Home, a SCAN community service, provides vitally needed services and support to seniors and their caregivers regardless of plan membership. SCAN also offers education programs, community funding, volunteer opportunities and other community services throughout our California service area. To learn more, visit scanhealthplan.com or follow us on Twitter @scanhealthplan.