With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spiking across the United States, many people — particularly older people who live alone or in a nursing home — are facing a lonely holiday after a long, already isolating year.
Long-term care facilities have been hit the hardest, accounting for nearly 40% of deaths nationwide, and the loneliness of isolation itself increases the risk of death by heart disease, stroke, and suicide.
But some medical students who mobilized earlier in the pandemic to volunteer with these populations hope that their efforts will ease the burden of loneliness on those who have not been able to receive visits from family and friends.
At the University of Arizona (UA) College of Medicine - Phoenix and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, medical students have started initiatives to reach out to isolated seniors in their communities.
“I think as devastating as COVID has been for this population, I think it’s kind of a unique opportunity to shed light on how isolated individuals are that live in assisted living facilities and live in nursing homes,” says Alexis Bailey, a second-year medical student at the UA College of Medicine - Phoenix.
Bailey, who has worked with hospice patients, started a project at her school to rally medical students to write cards for people in long-term care facilities.
At Johns Hopkins, third-year medical students Laura Pugh and Anthony Salerno started a volunteer organization called Apart Not Alone that pairs students with seniors to offer support and community. As the holidays approach, Apart Not Alone has ramped up a Christmas letter-writing campaign.
“We’re trying to get all of our volunteers to write a couple of letters to send to different nursing homes and to people who we feel like are in need,” Salerno says. “Just to know that somebody is thinking about them and just to have something that brightens their day a little bit.”