Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris has announced a new program that will allow residents of nursing homes and other facilities for the elderly to connect online with family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dubbed Senior Tech Connect, the program will be administered by the Shelby County Health Department.

Devices, such as iPads, tablets, webcams and accessories, including headphones, protective covers and sim cards, can be purchased with the grants.

In addition, qualifying facilities may use the funds to support subscription fees for video conferencing services.

The new program would allow more residents of long-term facilities to virtually connect with those who may want to visit but can’t or don’t want to visit a facility in person, the mayor said.

One of the issues that has routinely come up in conversations with experts about how to better protect nursing home residents are limits on visitation, Harris said at an announcement Sept.1.

The limits were the result of an executive order of the governor and a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Limits on visitation make sense,” Harris said.

At the same time, limits on visitation have produced social isolation for many of the residents of nursing homes who have been unable to easily and regularly connect with their family and loved ones, Harris said.

An unintended consequences of limits on visitation at nursing homes is “that it is hard to lay eyes on some of our residents and to make sure that all their needs are met in every single case,” Harris added.

The tech program is available to all assisted care facilities and homes for the aged in Shelby County.

Applications have been sent to the facilities.

“Our senior citizens are bearing the brunt of the pandemic,” Harris said. “We have too often seen deaths among our seniors.”

At the time of his announcement, Harris said 98 people had died in nursing homes. That was 26 percent of COVID deaths in Shelby County. Overall deaths were 370.

For more information about Senior Tech Connect call Cynthia Nunnally at 901-222-9046 or email at cynthia.nunnally@shelbycountytn.gov

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