By Kathy Rhoad, Director of Public Relations & Program Development, Palmetto Care Connections
BAMBERG, SC—Senior citizens aged 60 years and up from Clarendon County recently completed a three-session digital literacy learning program conducted by Palmetto Care Connections (PCC), a state-wide, non-profit telehealth organization.
The program was part of a pilot program funded by the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the S.C. Department on Aging to help 100 seniors who live in rural communities with digital literacy training, a free digital tablet and free cellular service for 12 months.
Senior citizens completed hands-on training using a digital tablet and learned skills such as how to send and receive photos and emails, connect with family and friends using video, search the internet for health information, play mind-stimulating games and connect with their doctor for virtual telehealth appointments. PCC will provide ongoing technical support for the seniors who complete the program.
“COVID-19 has created an explosion in telehealth services and uncovered a tremendous need for internet access and digital literacy in rural areas,” said PCC Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting. “As PCC surveyed rural health care providers, we confirmed that many of the seniors they serve have difficulty using and understanding technology, and many do not have internet access at home. The goal is to connect seniors not only to telehealth, but also to a variety of quality-of-life resources, to combat the social isolation that many seniors have faced during the pandemic.”
“For more than 40 years, Rural LISC has proudly worked to connect communities with resources and access to opportunities that everyone deserves,” said Rural LISC Program Officer Christa Vinson. “PCC’s Digital Inclusion pilot program supports the mission of Rural LISC by providing the physical equipment and technical assistance that this segment of the population needs in order to access services and benefit from an increasingly technical society.”
“The South Carolina Department on Aging works with a network of regional and local organizations to develop and manage services that help seniors remain independent in their homes and in their communities. SCDOA is pleased to be a part of the PCC Digital Inclusion pilot program focusing on seniors in rural areas in five South Carolina counties,” said Kay Hightower, SCDOA Senior Consultant, Outreach and Partnership Building.
“It is our hope that this pilot program will be a model for one approach to closing the digital divide in South Carolina,” said Kathy Schwarting, CEO of Palmetto Care Connections (PCC). “While PCC’s focus has traditionally been on serving rural health care providers with telehealth, broadband and technology resources, we have learned that patients need help in connecting to their health care providers. Residents of rural areas not only need internet access, they need access that is affordable and they need a device and knowledge to connect to resources for a better quality of life.”
Kathleen Gibson of K & H Resource Center in Summerton assisted with coordinating the Clarendon County class. “As a retired educator of 40 years, when the opportunity came to have this course, we jumped on it. The fact that these seniors can navigate the internet, email, selfies and zoom is amazing. These three classes don’t make them experts, but we hope to help maintain their skills and support them with the help of PCC. During COVID, this tablet can connect them to their community and beyond. It’s a matter of survival for a lot of them. I give this program an A++.”
Established in 2010, PCC is a non-profit organization that provides technology, broadband, and telehealth support services to health care providers in rural and underserved areas in S.C. PCC co-chairs the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, along with the Medical University of South Carolina, serving as an advocate for rural providers and partnering with organizations to improve health care access and delivery for all South Carolinians. The National Cooperative of Health Network Association named Palmetto Care Connections as the 2021 Outstanding Health Network of the Year. PCC CEO Kathy Schwarting recently received South Carolina’s 2021 Community Star award presented by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health.