HUNTINGTON — Once Sarah Shabih learned about the TeleHealth Access for Seniors program, she was surprised there wasn’t an existing effort in her home state of West Virginia.
It didn’t take her long to change that.
“When I came across this nonprofit’s efforts and saw that there was no representative in West Virginia, I immediately felt an obligation to expand its efforts to my home state. Unfortunately, there are many low-income elderly patients in West Virginia that do not have the financial resources to afford devices for telemedicine appointments,” Shabih said.
TeleHealth Access for Seniors is a nonprofit designed to give senior citizens access to smart, camera-enabled devices so they can better connect with physicians for appointments and family members after spending much of the pandemic in isolation.
To date, they have expanded into 26 states across the country, raising more than $40,000 and donating over 900 devices in various medical centers and clinics.
Shabih hand-delivered three smart devices to the Hershel Woody Williams VA Medical Center in Huntington this week and said she can’t wait to have an even bigger effect as the program grows in the state.
The devices will give the facility the ability to do what it wasn’t before — provide devices so that patients can connect with family members or medical doctors. Teresa Boyes, VA chief of voluntary services, says the donated items, when put in use, will be shared around the facility, not given to any particular individual.
“We received an iPhone and two Amazon Fire 7 tablets. All three units will be hooked up to the Wi-Fi for our patients,” said Boyes. “These are a true blessing and will allow the staff to provide a visual connection between our patients and those outside the facility since we still are not allowing visitors.”
In addition to the donation from TeleHealth Access for Seniors, Boyes said Fisher House donated similar devices for the same purpose.
“It’s amazing to see just three devices make such a big difference. I can’t wait to see the impact when there are more volunteers and more devices to donate,” said Shabih. “I’ve already contacted River Park Hospital (Huntington) and other clinics in the city of Charleston, where I live, and I’m hopeful about this effort and its potential.”
Shabih, a senior student at Emory University in Atlanta, learned about the program through close friends who educated her on the mission and vision of the organization. Then, she got plugged in and is now the program’s lead in West Virginia.
“A couple of my friends at Emory University told me about the program, and they are all from different states,” Shabih said. “One of my closest friends is from Florida and they have a lot of representatives in that state, and after looking at their website I recognized that they didn’t have any in West Virginia.”
Shabih added that over 3,000 devices are needed to completely fill the need, and they are leaning on local communities to help make their goal possible, adding that many have old devices they might not know what to do with.
“The unique nature of what we do is that millions of people have old devices but don’t know what to do with them,” she said.
To donate, visit https://www.telehealthforseniors.org/support-us. Monetary donations can be accepted through a GoFundMe page, https://gf.me/u/x5hfv3. Shabih said just $40 can help put a device in the hands of someone who needs it.
To make sure the donation goes toward facilities and patients in West Virginia, select “Sarah Shabih” as a volunteer referral when donating a device online.