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OCTOBER 28, 2020 THE CMA FOUNDATION STAFF
A tablet, Internet access and a little technical support. It’s a simple combination, but one that is making a big difference to seniors who have been cut off from friends, family and activities during the pandemic.

“Getting them [low-income seniors] connected so they can contact their doctors, contact their families or banks, is really important to us,” said Joseph Silva, director of strategies and partnerships, community health and services with York Region. “They have been more isolated than a lot of seniors.”

In May 2020, the CMA Foundation pledged an unprecedented $10 million to help community recovery and stabilization efforts, through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations. Learn more.

In Ontario’s York Region, the $60,500 allocated through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations is targeting low-income seniors living in community housing. This fall, 31 seniors had tablets delivered to their door and technical support offered via video or phone.

“Ideally it would be great to send someone to their home and set it all up, but we’ve had to do it all virtually. It has required a lot more hours of support,” explained Silva. By March 2021, the program aims to enroll around 100 seniors.

“I was so intimidated by technology because I grew up in a time where we didn’t have it and I thought I would never learn … it’s amazing.” – Senior client

Helping seniors cope with loneliness addresses a critical need, Silva said. Social and physical distancing rules have led to the suspension of nearly all in-home services for seniors, putting them at risk of further isolation and deteriorating mental health.

“We appreciate the partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the CMA Foundation and just their willingness to consider some of these emerging needs,” he said.

He believes the program should be expanded in the future to help more seniors.

There is no going back, he added.

“Technology is so important to keep people connected, reduce isolation and help with well-being,” he said. “The seniors are so proud of themselves for being able to use this technology.”

Thanks to the program, seniors can have virtual consults with a doctor, or renew a prescription with a pharmacist. But it isn’t just for connecting seniors with health care providers or family members. It’s a way to connect seniors to each other, too.

The program — delivered by Human Endeavour, a Vaughan-based non-profit organization focused on improving socioeconomic and living conditions — includes games and fitness activities as a complement to the technical support. The wellness program offers more than 10 sessions to seniors weekly.

The success of the program will be measured through a survey examining three questions: whether seniors have improved access to health and community services, whether they contacted family and friends more frequently and whether they reported improved well-being.

Silva said connecting seniors to technology builds confidence.

“It’s not just dealing with the emergent issues now, like social isolation. It’s about the legacy we leave behind with the project.”

About the author(s)
The CMA Foundation staff
Originally established in 2005, the CMA Foundation is a registered charity, designated as a private foundation, whose sole member is the Canadian Medical Association. Its purpose is to provide impactful charitable giving to registered Canadian charities and qualified donees to further excellence in health care.



NHS Covid-19 App error ‘left thousands unaware they need to isolate’

The contact-tracing app was set at the wrong sensitivity level, meaning many users were not sent self-isolation alerts after they came into contact with infected people.

The error meant users whose “risk score” should have triggered an alert were not notified, The Sunday Times first reported.

The app, launched a month ago on 24 September, has been downloaded more than 19 million times. It was updated last week to improve accuracy and notifications which was “expected to increase the number of people asked to self-isolate by the app”.

Since its launch “shockingly low” numbers of people had been sent warnings about potential exposure to the virus, a government official told The Sunday Times.

The app uses Bluetooth to track time and distance between devices to determine a user’s risk. The technology should have been recognising if people had been in close enough proximity to be at risk of the virus, but was instead recording them as being too far away.

Last weeks update saw the risk threshold lowered to improve the apps accuracy and notifications, meaning more people would be notified if they had been exposed.

But the updates had been available before the apps launch in September, developers admitted in a blog post. It means the app could have been upgraded to be more accurate from the tested version in the Isle of Wight and London borough of Newham.

To accommodate a persons infectiousness, which is highest on the day they develop symptoms, the risk threshold was “due to be lowered” however “this change did not take place at that time” wrote Randeep Sidhu and Gaby Appleton, who are leading figures behind the app.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS Covid-19 app is the only app in the world using the latest Google Apple technology to better gauge distance to identify those most at risk, and is deemed ‘excellent’ by international standards.

“As previously published, we anticipate more app users who are at high risk of having caught the virus will receive a notification to self isolate, and that will be to everyone’s long term benefit by reducing the chances of those with the virus passing it onto others.”

It is not known how many people have been told to self-isolate through the app.

A bumpy road
The app has been plagued by problems since it was first reported NHSX were developing one in March.

Privacy concerns about the centralised approach originally taken saw the first version of the app, initially trialled in May, scrapped in June.

NHS Test and Trace, which by then had taken over the development of the app, confirmed it would instead be using Apple and Google’s APIs which were based on a decentralised approach – meaning data only ever passes between devices.

New trials of the app were launched in August before the app was officially launched in England and Wales in September – the last countries in the UK to have an app available.

But within days of its launch an urgent fix was needed when it was revealed thousands of test results could not be linked to the app.

Further updates were made last month to fix phantom messages telling people they had possible Covid-19 exposure that would disappear when the notification was opened.

Users said the messages were worrying and caused confusion over whether they had been exposed and needed to isolate or get a test.

Last week’s updates aimed to remove these notifications. A DHSC spokesperson confirmed official notifications from the app won’t disappear when a user clicks on them and will provide appropriate advice.