Hilary Crockett dials the next person on her list. It’s a Friday morning around 10 o’clock and she wakes the woman on the other end from sleep.
She proceeds to ask if she had eaten breakfast and if she had any plans for the day. She is told that a caretaker would be coming to the home soon.
“She sounded very content,” said Crockett, who is a stay-at-home mom with older children.
Her conversation with the woman was quick and humdrum—routine.
She moves on to the next person on her list. This time, she does not get an answer. She makes another attempt 10 minutes later.
She gets an answer this time.
“You start to know their routines,” she said.
Crockett asks her if she had taken her medication. She is told that she has ice packs on her legs, as her doctor recommended, because they “give her problems sometimes.”
She wants to feel better so she can attend her prayer group. She also needs to get dressed so she can head to the bank and work on Medicaid paperwork.
TODAY IS A GOOD DAY for this call recipient, though she has been very anxious and overwhelmed on other days, according to Crockett.
Crockett is making her calls sitting in the basement below the Virginia Hospital Center’s Urgent Care facility on South Carlin Spring Road in Arlington. This is where PRS, Inc. runs its crisis and suicide prevention hotline.
While the hotline is accustomed to helping callers with emotional trauma, family crises and suicide prevention, Crockett is helping the organization with a new endeavor. She is a volunteer of CareRing 2.0, a program that provides regular outbound telephone calls to older Fairfax County residents who are isolated.
PRS CareRing clients will receive daily or bi-weekly calls from trained volunteers like Crockett.
“It’s a neat service,” Crockett said. “People are mostly by themselves and isolated. Having people feel that they’ve been heard is a rewarding experience.”
There are nearly 125,000 people aged 65 and over living in Fairfax County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. That is more than 11 percent of the county’s total population.
“You realize there’s a lot of people struggling and a lot of people who don’t want to be alone,” Crockett said. “These people do not or cannot leave their home, so this phone call could be their one connection.”
These people are aging in place.
These are people who really don’t fit the criteria for assisted living facilities.
“These are individuals who may be quite capable of living in their own homes, keeping their homes and affording their own homes, but there is concern that they may be more vulnerable for exploitation or neglect, or maybe their faculties are good but not completely in place to remember to make payments on their bills and stuff like that,” said Laura Mayer, the CareRing program director. “What we’re looking to do is provide a service that is for those individuals who are not ready yet to need supportive care.”
The goal of the program is to enhance aging in place by addressing social and emotional needs, providing medication reminders, helping prevent exploitation and neglect, and providing a simple connection with others.
“We often get adult children who are looking to find other resources to support their aging parents who are concerned because they may not be able to check on them every day,” Mayer said. “We give them peace of mind that their mom or dad is being checked on regularly.”
This also gives clients peace of mind because, a lot of times, older adults don’t want to have to rely on their children for support, according to Mayer.
“They don’t want to make their kids worry, so having a third party to do that puts less of a burden on their kids,” Mayer said.
The calls are free for county residents, as the program is fully funded through a new two-year grant from the county’s Consolidated Community Funding Pool program. This program funds organizations to provide human services or affordable housing development for the county.
“We were really lucky to get funding and it is unusual, but the gap is so great for older adults in the county,” Mayer said.
Mary Havers, the CareRing supervisor, makes calls daily.
“I get to know these people and they’re surface-level friends,” said Havers. “I know how they’re doing. I know how their dog is. I know when they went to the vet and I know when they went to the doctor. I know that they went and bought a new hat the other day and they’re really excited about that.”
Their emotions, and excitement, transfer onto her.
“Sometimes I’ll be walking down the halls and I’ll be super excited,” she said. “People will be like, ‘Why are you excited?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Ken just got a hat!’ So, it’s really rewarding for me because I get to hear everybody’s stories and it’s positive for the most part.”
Primary care physicians and faith communities often refer people to the program, according to Mayer, but individuals may also refer themselves.
The program can support up to 40 people in the program and spots are still available.
FOR INFORMATION about enrolling or referring someone who is at least 60 years old and is aging in place in Fairfax County for the CareRing 2.0 program, visit www.prsinc.org/crisislink/services/carering or call 703-516-6769.
PRS is also looking for more volunteers to help make phone calls for the CareRing program. Those interested can apply online at www.prsincvolunteers.applicantpro.com/jobs/500945.html.