In COVID-19 times, how do you successfully reach over 200 clients and support them with social, wellbeing and education activities despite lockdown?
The Chinese Cancer and Chronic Illness Society has achieved this and more!
“… Being able to connect with other patients online is such a wonderful thing for me, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. I feel lonely at home and sometimes don’t even have someone to talk to. It’s so great to be able to attend the online groups even just for a chit-chat every week. ”
The Chinese Cancer and Chronic Illness Society provides in-language support to individuals with a chronic/terminal illness, carers and family members from the Mandarin and Cantonese speaking communities across metro Melbourne. Sixty volunteers from several regions provide services and participate in supporting residents with chronic/terminal illness.
The impact of lockdown
When the lockdown was announced in March, there was real concern for our clients. For this vulnerable population group, disconnection from social/activity groups could have a mental health impact (increase anxiety, depression, grief) and this could exacerbate physical symptoms. The burden of care increased for family members who became full time carers, unable to leave home due to lack of respite support.
Over the next few weeks, the Manager and staff deliberated on how they were going to adapt to the pandemic, what services could continue and steps needed to prepare clients for the new program.
Launching the new model of service delivery
An alternate model of service delivery was launched. This involved a virtual support program, practical assistance and continuation of the online family support services for clients (eg. individual counselling).
As with other services across Victoria, virtual communication presented major challenges such as, client and carer unfamiliarity with digital devices, hearing issues, memory loss, osteoarthritis (hand movement difficulty), clients living across several regions, social distancing (no face-to-face contacts) and language barriers.
Upskilling volunteers, coaching clients
The Manager and staff identified a team of eight volunteers with an interest in teaching clients to use their digital devices. Each volunteer of the IT team was allocated 10-12 clients and given instruction to begin a combination of telephone and video chat sessions to coach older community members.
At this time, Stage 3 restrictions were in place and volunteers were able initially to travel to selected clients’ homes and provide the phone training through ‘window’ sessions to observe social distancing. This required patience and perseverance.
The IT volunteers coached older clients through one-on-one tutorials, and continue to provide online technical support to volunteer group leaders, ensuring all groups are running smoothly.
Finally, the training was completed after many repeat sessions with the members. Over 200 clients including carers of advanced cancer sufferers learned to use their devices to join online support groups/information sessions.
Launching the video chat support groups
Once the clients were able to be reached on video chats (WeChat, WhatsApp and Zoom), group sessions began. Seniors were able to connect with learning and wellbeing activities, social support groups and COVID related updates. This included:
- Regular cancer support groups (Mandarin, Cantonese and English)
- Weekly Wellbeing groups (Mandarin & Cantonese)
- Regular Chronic illness support groups (Parkinson’s disease and Dementia)
- Bereavement Support group (ad-hoc)
- Digital support group
Adding a health education component
At a later stage, speakers were arranged to present on topics such as:
- Your mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Insomnia? What to do.
- Grand-parenting: the pain and joys of inter-generational education
- Elder Abuse
- How do Melbourne GPs and hospitals manage COVID-19 patients?
The addition of speakers on various psychosocial and health issues aimed at keeping clients and carers informed and updated about government regulations regarding COVID-19. This was well received by the carers and clients.
Other essential services provided
Volunteers mobilised along different lines of activity according to skill and capacity. This included: raising funds to purchase PPE for clients and staff, sewing 170 masks to give out to clients and volunteers, preparing over 50 food packs for clients across metro Melbourne, conducting 242 welfare checks, producing 10 life stories in electronic version based on photos/information obtained from family members.
As one patient remarked: “I saw the food pack at my front door. Thank you very much! I didn’t expect it to be delivered in the early morning. … Thank you for your extremely warm help and support. It really makes a very sick old man like me feel like a warm current flows into my deep heart – feeling that I am not completely alone in a foreign country. “
Another client describes the benefit from counselling sessions “(the counsellor) is an excellent person. She is obliging, knowledgeable and welcoming. Her attitude and conduct make me feel comfortable in the current environment. The arrangements were sensitive and gave much comfort to the family members during a time of profound sorrow. “
The Chinese Cancer and Chronic Illness Society was able to sustain regular online social and well-being activities with their volunteers and clients during the lockdown period.