Abstract: A University-Community Partnership to Eradicate Social Isolation Among Urban Dwelling Older African American Adults during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

A University-Community Partnership to Eradicate Social Isolation Among Urban Dwelling Older African American Adults during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friday, January 14, 2022
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Robert Cosby, PhD., Associate Professor, Howard University School of Social Work, DC
Sandra Edmonds Crewe, PhD, MSW, Dean, Professor - School of Social Work, Howard University, Washingon, DC
Purpose: COVID-19 has had serious implications for the social well-being of older adults, as safety protocols have required elders to physically distance from younger family members to avoid potential virus transmission. The Leadership Council for Healthy Communities developed a Virtual Health Ministry (VHM) collaborative project with the Howard University School of Social Work (HUSSW). The VHM is a Washington DC-based nonprofit organization of clergy leaders, medical professionals, public and community leaders, brought together to help African Americans and other minorities to eliminate health disparities and promote healthy communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, simple things such as social workers scheduling in-person visits were not practical, and in some cases, were impossible. Therefore, many older adults suffered from social isolation. The purpose of this project was to evaluate the success of the VHM project in minimizing the risk of social isolation in older African American adults shut in due to COVID-19.

Method: The VHM project consisting of 8-12 Coordinators (Church Lay Leaders in the Washington, DC community from four churches in Washington, DC in NW, NE and SE quadrants of the city) The ‘VHM Care Team’ comprised of 4 Navigators (consisting of 2 PhD level SW Students and 2 MSW graduates). Together, the Coordinators, and Navigators assist older adults in the community in need of assistance during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The VHM Care Team was directed by an overall Program Director. The Howard University School of Social Work used a mixed method design including a survey of those utilizing the service, focus groups and interviews with stakeholders to see whether they met their goal of identifying and bridging the gap between vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and social isolation.

Results: This community-engaged project facilitated prevention and treatment support and referrals during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period and facilitated warm handoffs from VHM coordinators to VHM navigators. The VHM navigators provided further assessment and referrals to social service and other non-profit providers in Washington, DC. The project evaluation has also helped to understand some of the root causes of injustices against older African Americans, such as institutional racism (i.e. having limited access to adequate housing and thereby creating health disparities associated with social isolation and poverty). The VHM telehealth model overcame significant and persistent health disparities, including social isolation. The VHM created a centralized registry of resident members of the faith-based community as well as the broader neighborhoods, facilitated prevention and treatment during COVID-19, and is a basis to addresses health care disparities going forward. The VHM successfully identified isolated older adults because of their knowledge of the faith-based community and surrounding environment.

Implications: This project helped to identify best practices to decrease social isolation among urban dwelling African American older adults during a serious public health crisis. Practices include university-community partnerships that include faith-based organizations, use of telehealth and warm hand-offs to area providers, identifying unemployed individuals who may be at higher risk for isolation, and creating a registry of older adults served primarily by neighborhood faith-based communities.