Research regarding older adults and loneliness shows consistent evidence that social relationships are a major contributing factor in lowering morbidity and mortality.
That's why scientists at the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing launched the innovative Villanova ReachOut in May 2020, activating the Villanova University campus community to engage older adults through technology and make a positive difference in their mental and physical wellness.
It Started with an Observation
Assistant Professor Christina Whitehouse, PhD, CRNP, CDCES is a gerontology primary care nurse practitioner who has a keen ear on conversations with older adults in her care. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic required an abrupt change from office and homecare visits to virtual telehealth visits and remote patient monitoring. She noticed her telephone conversations with her patients extended beyond a virtual clinical assessment to a friendly conversation and that these discussions were deep and meaningful for her patients.
And Villanova ReachOut was Born
Based on their clinical expertise and cumulative interest in increasing student exposure earlier and more often to older adults, Dr. Whitehouse - along with faculty members and members of the College's Gerontology Interest Group (GiG) who are both scientists and gerontology nursing experts - designed a program that supports a vital social connection through conversations via telephone or other technology (such as Facetime or Zoom) between Villanova volunteers and older adults in the community. It provides a much needed respite for the older adult from the social isolation and loneliness associated with social distancing. The opportunity will also provide the volunteer student, in particular, with an experience like no other where they can see in action how important connection with others are for older adults in the community. Staff and faculty are also welcome to volunteer.
Any undergraduate or graduate student, staff or faculty in the Villanova University community can volunteer for this program as no health care training is required. The phone calls are meant to engage both the student and the older adult partner in meaningful conversations – friends talking to friends. Volunteers will NOT be providing any health care or advice.
After applying, volunteers will complete online, asynchronous training in topics such as active listening, open-ended questioning, HIPAA and privacy laws. Training will also include a “check in” call with one of the GiG faculty. After the volunteer completes the training program, they will be connected with an older adult partner and will make weekly telephone calls or virtual calls to that same older adult partner for a time frame that is up to the older adult and the volunteer. Volunteers are encouraged to make one call per week that may last up to one hour in length. GiG faculty provide supervision and oversight to the volunteers and overall program.
The length of the program is entirely up to the volunteer and their older adult partner. The need for social engagement extends beyond the restrictions that COVID-19 has highlighted. It is anticipated that this program will not only benefit older adults regardless of stay-at-home orders, but also the volunteers.
If you are a Villanova student, staff or faculty and are interested in volunteering, please contact us.
Older Adult Partners
Older adult partners of the ReachOut program will receive calls from a Villanova volunteer (via phone, Facetime, or Zoom). Involvement in ReachOut is strictly voluntary. These interactions will not provide any health advice or counseling. Calls will be provided at least once weekly and may last up to one hour in length. The frequency and length of the calls is entirely up to the older adult partner and can be discontinued at any time.
If you are an older adult who would like to be part of the program, or if you wish to obtain services for your client, please complete our Older Adult Partner Form.
Villanova ReachOut is supported by the GiG, a campus-wide collaboration of faculty and students who work with and for older adults.
External funding is welcome. If you are interested in supporting the important work of Villanova ReachOut, please contact us.
Christina Whitehouse, PhD, CRNP, CDCES, assistant professor
Melissa O’Connor, PhD, MBA, RN, FGSA, M. Louise Fitzpatrick Endowed Professor and director of the GiG
Catherine Curley, PhD, RN, clinical assistant professor
Michelle McKay, PhD, RN, CCRN, assistant professor