(Public domain photo by Baltimore Heritage)
When it comes to quarantine, people who are over the age of 65 are among those who authorities said it was most important to stay at home. Yet as they stay home — even after initial reopening begins — they are also potentially facing isolation of the social kind.
This loneliness presents vulnerability to mental health concerns. It’s also the type of stress can be addressed on a neighbor-to-neighbor level, and it can start with a call.
That’s what led 1st District City Councilmember Zeke Cohen and a group of 22 organizations including government leaders, healthcare institutions, mental health professionals, churches and community-level groups to launch the Baltimore Neighbors Network (BNN) to launch on April 1.
Cohen worked on legislation centered on trauma-informed care over the last year and a half. In the days after the pandemic reached Maryland and it became clear that isolating would be the norm for many, he began organizing with a focus on mental health of older adults, and connected with 8th District City Councilmember Kristerfer Burnett and groups that could help with services at all levels. The work started in two districts, then within three weeks expanded across the city.
“We created this system in real time together as a team, and we’re perfecting it every single day,” said Jacke Schroeder, director of SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders, a program of Baltimore abuse response organization CHANA which provides services to older adults who are being abused. After helping to organize volunteers and set up a vetting process, she is serving as a volunteer ambassador.
The network trains volunteers, who call seniors to check in. They’re looking to have conversations and built relationships, as well as find out whether they have physical or mental health needs. Through the partnering organizations, they can also help make connections to resources likes meals and prescriptions, or care through mental health ambassadors and pro bono clinicians.
“Folks are getting phone calls every single week,” said Shantay Jackson, project manager for the Baltimore Neighbors Network and director of the Baltimore Community Mediation Center. “Building both micro and macro community relationships is what this work is really about, and making sure our elders know it’s our turn to support them.”
Hundreds of Baltimoreans have signed up to bring love and comfort to our elders. I am endlessly amazed by the creativity, compassion and hustle of our city.
Join us: https://t.co/z43gsY7rSG#HealingCity (3/3)
— Zeke Cohen (@Zeke_Cohen) May 19, 2020
It’s also work where software can play a role in coordinating and connecting. That’s why the team is partnering with Rose, a startup founded out of Johns Hopkins that calls itself the “smarter mental health platform.” Founder Kavi Misri started the company after his own experiences with mental health care after working in a stressful financial role for years. He sought to bring insight as a patient, as well as an investor and entrepreneur.
Now the team of 18 people behind the app has a clarion call: “We are making a difference in the way mental health care is not just delivered but the way it is perceived,” Misri said. The company went through the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab last year, and Misri is now a member of the Halcyon House Incubator in D.C., with additional team members based in Baltimore.
The Rose team built a system that’s used by patients and clinicians. For patients, it has a mobile app that combines check-ins and journaling with AI tools to create a mental health score. It can also help get resources to patients. For clinicians, it offers a dashboard that can provide updates on patients between visits.
It is this dashboard that is being adapted for use by the Baltimore Neighbors Network. Through the web platform, Rose is providing the backend for volunteers who are making calls, bringing tech to a process that Jackson told Technical.ly had been essentially manual.
“In this moment of crisis, it is inspiring to see people and organizations step up to support our most vulnerable,” Cohen said in a statement. “Having a HIPAA-compliant, safe way to store information is critical to the success of the Baltimore Neighbors Network.”
Along with keeping data secure, Rose also stands to help coordinate and connect the work of a network that has received interest from 400 people to volunteer. The system include a script that volunteers use, tools that help to distribute contact info and coordinate calls, an autodial feature and a flowchart of questions.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure that the user is able to get the right message and be able to get the most out of that call depending on how the call flows,” Misri said.
They’re features that get Jackson, who is a technologist who previously worked at T. Rowe Price and Brown Advisory, “very excited.” She said it will allow callers to complete as many as they want to in a given session. It can also help build more relationships, she said, giving the volunteers options to keep checking in with the same folks. And it indicates when residents are connected with the resources and providers based on the needs they indicate.
The platform can also gather key info about the calls without gathering personal history, Schroeder said.
“I think makes a really big difference in terms of their safety,” she said. “I don’t know how we would do it if we didn’t have that level of technology.”
It’s a look at how a local startup can support a community-created response during the pandemic. Members of the Rose and BNN teams have been meeting twice a week via Zoom calls. The platform was delivered to BNN earlier this month, and they’ve been gathering feedback from volunteers that have a broad range of tech acumen.
“My belief is that the partnership with [Rose] is going to allow us to scale this in a way that folks don’t even see yet,” she said. “As a former project manager and also as a grassroots nonprofit leader in Baltimore city, I see this even post-pandemic being a network that can be built out to so many other things.”
With its technology deployed at 170 practices, the BNN partnership comes at a time when the company is seeing increasing interest as remote care options are sought in the pandemic, and it is seeking to raise a round of investment funding to fund building additional features. Earlier this month, it won the judges’ and audience choice at a pitch event for the Johns Hopkins Hexcite Digital Health Accelerator.-30-
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