Group launches hotline to help seniors register for vaccine

As the pandemic marches on, a Richland-based group is trying different ways to keep seniors connected and get them the help they need.

The Richland Senior Association offers educational, outreach and social programs, with its most recent program aimed at helping seniors navigate the decidedly unfriendly online system for registering for the Covid-19 vaccine, said Rob Koenig, an RSA board director who’s been a member for three years.

“Those of us who can navigate the system should be able to come up with a way to help those who can’t navigate the system,” he said.

Koenig, 73, of Pasco, knew Tri-City seniors needed help, so he floated the idea to his fellow board members in January about assisting those without a computer.

The RSA hatched its plan. Volunteers set up a toll-free hotline to receive messages from seniors. Then they divided and conquered.

RSA’s vaccination assistance program aims to help seniors who do not have computer access or sufficient skills to fill out the state’s online Find Your Phase form at FindYourPhaseWA.org, a required step at many places giving the vaccination.

“The outreach project is not intended to make appointments for people. Although the vaccination process is certainly complicated and wearisome for everyone, making appointments is something people can do by phone or using a computer. … We do not have the resources to serve the public as an appointment clearinghouse,” said David Everett, RSA president.

Every senior who leaves a message gets a call back from RSA.

About 200 seniors left messages in the days after the line went live. Koenig said the group wasn’t prepared for the huge response and since has been fine-tuning its approach.

Though making an appointment for seniors isn’t the goal of the program, RSA volunteers will help those who don’t have access to a computer to do so.

Incident Management Team Washington State Department of Health Secretary Dr. Umair A. Shah toured the mass vaccination clinic at the Benton County Fairgrounds on Feb. 9 and vaccinated the last person in line. The Richland Senior Association has set up a toll-free hotline to assist seniors who do not have computer access or sufficient skills to fill out the state’s online Find Your Phase form, a required step at many places giving the vaccination. (Courtesy Southeast Washington Interagency)

They helped 30 seniors who called the hotline make vaccine reservations in the last week of January, Koenig said.

Seniors with a computer also can receive help by calling the line. Volunteers will email them the link to the Find Your Phase website and a tip sheet on how to make an appointment.

If they have an email address, they’ll walk them through the website and email them the information saying they’re eligible, Koenig said.

In that email, they’ll ask the seniors to reply back to confirm they’ve received it.

If RSA doesn’t get the confirmation, they’ll call them back.

“We’re closing the loop,” Koenig said.

If they don’t have email or a printer, an RSA volunteer will print the eligibility document and send a carrier to their home to hand-deliver it to people living in the Tri-City area. Their team practices social distancing and wears masks, and encourages seniors to do the same, Koenig said.

The RSA referral line toll-free is 800-595-4070. Be sure to leave a message.

RSA’s mission

RSA, formed in 1995, wants to improve the quality of life for all Tri-City seniors – not only those living in Richland.

RSA’s social activities in the past year included virtual bingo, trivia and an ongoing neighborhood chat room via Zoom every other Wednesday morning.

“Isolation is deadly to seniors,” said Everett. “We’re offering things to support seniors. They are a huge reservoir of experience and education and their life isn’t over.”

Members of the group recently helped to plan a two-day Senior Valentine Gala that included a free drive-thru on Feb. 12 followed by an online virtual meetup on Feb. 14. The first 200 received Valentine’s party bags containing items from local businesses, including TriComp, publisher of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business and Senior Times.

The online event included dance music and dancers, bingo games with prizes and other entertainment.

Planning group partnership

The gala was organized by the Intercommunity Planning Group. The RSA formed the group with Katie Haynes of the Royal Columbian Retirement Inn in Kennewick, Everett said.

Everett said he reached out to Tri-City retirement communities when he first got involved in RSA, knowing they provided activities to their residents and were a potential resource to the senior community at large.

“We try to use RSA as a vehicle to find out where the resources are and bring them together and offer the senior community an opportunity to stimulate their brain because it releases chemicals good for your memory and forestalls the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s,” said Everett of Kennewick, who has been president of the group since 2018.

The IPG grew to become an association of about 70 members from the RSA, Tri-City retirement communities, representatives from the cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, and senior-focused supporters, such as Active4Life, Rock Steady Boxing Tri-Cities and HAPO Community Credit Union.

The group’s goal is to offer fun social events for Tri-City seniors by allowing the different organizations to pool resources.

Education and philanthropy

RSA also offers monthly educational events on a wide range of topics, such as: legal planning (estate planning, medical directives, guardianship, and powers of attorney); home health and home care; decluttering; medical issues (dental, skin cancer and psychological awareness); dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; and healthy cooking.

Everett and the RSA board added three ongoing philanthropic initiatives to its mission:

Tri-Cities Scholarship for Geriatric Studies. The endowment through the Washington State Foundation has about $12,000 toward its $25,000 goal to underwrite scholarships for nursing students majoring in geriatrics.

Travel Scholarship Fund. The fund helps low-income seniors participate in RSA-sponsored trips. It received an initial contribution from JEA Corporation of $1,000 toward its $5,000 goal.

Sound Barrier Initiative. This fund helps seniors obtain quality hearing aids for $250 a pair through an international program sponsored by the nonprofit Starkey Hearing Foundation. The RSA committed an initial contribution of $1,000 toward a goal of $15,000.

“There’s a purpose behind these projects to inform and raise the awareness of seniors. They’re a valuable reservoir for our community. It’s about community, ultimately. It’s about loving and caring for each other,” Everett said.

RSA membership ($5 a year) is open to anyone of any age in the Tri-City area. On Jan. 1, it totaled 425.

For more information about the RSA, find the group on Facebook or call 509-627-2522.

Information also is available online. RSA is transitioning to a new website so check them out at the old site, richlandseniors.com, and the new one, richlandseniorsassociation.com.

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