Inside The Senior Alliance: Friendly Reassurance Call Program (Ep. 1.13)

Host Jason Maciejewski sits down with Lori Zimmerman, Manager of the Senior Alliance Information and Assistance Program, and Theresa Coleman, Senior Alliance team member, to talk about the Friendly Reassurance Program and why it matters. Listen in to learn more about the incredible difference our phone calls can make in the lives of aging adults and adults with disabilities.


I’m Jason Maciejewski (00:00):
Welcome to episode 13 of Inside the Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Executive Director of the Senior Alliance, the area agency on aging serving western and southern Wayne County. Today, I’m joined by Lori Zimmerman, Manager of our Information and Assistance Program, and Theresa Coleman, one of our team members who makes the Friendly Reassurance Calls. Lori and Theresa, welcome to Inside the Senior Alliance.

Lori Zimmerman (00:28):
Thank you.

Theresa Coleman (00:28):
Thank you.

I’m Jason Maciejewski (00:28):
Today, we’re talking about our Friendly Reassurance Program. Lori, what exactly is friendly reassurance?

Lori Zimmerman (00:35):
Friendly reassurance, which is also commonly known as telephone reassurance, is a program that was set up to provide regular telephone calls to homebound older adults, age 60 and older. A participant may receive calls anywhere from one to five days per week, depending on their request. And the program has meant to ensure the safety and wellbeing of an individual, as well as provide them with social interaction. What’s great about the program is that the individuals making the phone calls are also older adults, and that helps us establish an initial and long-lasting rapport with the program participants. We get referrals from older adults themselves, family members, and professionals that the key to a successful referral is really that the individual must be interested in receiving the phone calls. And ultimately they’re going to be the ones to determine if this is a program that’s a good fit for them.

Jason Maciejewski (01:29):
So, it really fits into the person-centered philosophy we have at the Senior Alliance, with people self-identifying and participating in the program. Many of our programs do assist with combating social isolation and supporting home bound individuals, programs like Meals on Wheels, care management, MI Choice Waiver, transportation. Lori, what has COVID-19 meant for the Friendly Reassurance Program?

Lori Zimmerman (01:53):
The program experienced a major increase in participants when we came home in March of 2020 due to COVID-19. At that time, we had approximately 125 participants in the program. And now we have 217 people in the program and it just continues to grow. Over the past year, I would say a handful of people did decide that they didn’t want to be in the program any longer once they were able to get out and see family and friends again, but the majority of people have remained in the program. Many people are still cautious about leaving their home or having someone enter their home, so having someone to chat with over the phone each week is something that many of these people really look forward to.

Jason Maciejewski (02:36):
Theresa, have the people you’ve been talking with communicated a greater sense of isolation or loneliness during the pandemic?

Theresa Coleman (02:44):
Yes, Jason, they have. One of the participants that I call each day who was already having feelings of isolation and feeling alone, but when the pandemic happened, it just intensified those feelings. But, she told me that because of the calls that she receives each day, it kind of helps knowing that she’s not alone. And I’m getting that from a lot of the participants, you know, at this point.

Jason Maciejewski (03:10):
There is a peer-to-peer aspect of Friendly Reassurance of older adults calling older adults. And so, Lori, what is the benefit of that type of program?

Lori Zimmerman (03:20):
I would say that it provides them with a special connection and bond that we wouldn’t see with younger adults calling older adults. I actually did telephone reassurance when I was an intern in college many, many years ago. And one thing that I heard from some of the participants is that I wouldn’t understand what they were talking about because I was just too young to remember something, or I couldn’t relate to something because of my age. This peer to peer relationship is so important to them because of the common understanding that they have with them and a connection that they often share.

Jason Maciejewski (03:54):
It’s definitely an important link between the Friendly Reassurance callers and the people on the other end of the line. You’ve heard many stories in the past about those connections. Theresa, could you share a story with us about one of the people you’ve developed a connection with as a Friendly Reassurance caller.

Theresa Coleman (04:10):
There was a lady who was having a difficult time, and the only thing that worked for her that she asked me to do was say a prayer. So, I did that and we’ve been connected to that one prayer each time I call her. And it just seemed to make her feel better and put her at ease.

Jason Maciejewski (04:31):
Sometimes it’s as simple as that to make a connection with somebody and have them feel that there’s something they can reach out to or be connected to, so that’s an important thing for that individual. Some people receive calls Monday through Friday, some less frequently. What happens when someone doesn’t pick up our Friendly Reassurance call?

Lori Zimmerman (04:50):
So, the Friendly Reassurance callers do make calls to each of their participants on predetermined days and as close to the participants requested times. If the participant doesn’t pick up on the first call, the Friendly Reassurance caller will try back two additional times at different times of the day. We have emergency contacts for most of the participants, so the fourth call may be to the emergency contact or to me if the person is also a TSA participant in one of our other programs. Oftentimes when somebody is not answering it’s because they’ve gone to the hospital or to rehab, so if the person is a TSA participant in one of our home health care programs, I can check in our database to see if there has been a change of status. If there aren’t any notes in the system, indicating that the person is in hospital or rehab, the next step would definitely be to call the emergency contact to see if they’ve heard from the person to verify they’re all right. And then on a rare occasion when we can’t get in touch with the participant or their emergency contact and we have a concern about the well-being of the individual, we would call the police to do a safety check. The Friendly Reassurance team who make the calls are great about communicating changes and concerns with me. And they know if I’m not available, they can always call our information and assistance staff to obtain help at any time.

Jason Maciejewski (06:12):
So, Lori, you mentioned that the instances of an emergency or calling through that chain of phone numbers when you can’t reach somebody is rare, but I know there are instances where people have experienced an emergency and Friendly Reassurance has kind of worked through that process to discover that. Could you share a story about how the Friendly Reassurance program has helped somebody during an emergency, um, maybe saving someone’s life?

Lori Zimmerman (06:36):
Sure. This actually happened a long before I became a manager of the program. One of our Friendly Reassurance callers was talking to one of their participants and the person stated that she was having difficulty breathing and having just some minor chest pain. And she, you know, she didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but in talking to her, the friendly reassurance caller flagged down one of our information and assistance staff, and they did make a call to 9-1-1, and the person was indeed having a heart attack, and she was taken to the hospital. We followed up that call to the emergency contact to alert them as to what was happening. And luckily, the person did make a full recovery. We were just so fortunate to have called at that exact time to enlist assistance for the individual. And this was during the time when we were all in the office and when we had a lot of people around to back us up. It’s been quite different since we’ve been home while making calls, due to COVID restrictions, but calls have still proven to be effective in helping people stay connected and healthy. During this last year and a half, many people have indicated that they weren’t feeling well, but they didn’t want to bother their doctor or their family. And with a little encouragement from their Friendly Reassurance callers, these participants did make a call to their doctor and/or family member, and some of them have ended up in the hospital, and quite a few of them have had COVID. With these calls and the gentle encouragement by the Friendly Reassurance caller, you know, without that they would have waited longer than they should have to seek help, and the outcomes could have been very different.

Jason Maciejewski (08:14):
Definitely an important aspect of the Friendly Reassurance program is at check-in and discovering when an emergency or an illness might need some attention, so thanks for sharing the story. Theresa, has there been a time when you’ve connected one of your Friendly Reassurance participants with another resource or program?

Theresa Coleman (08:31):
Yes. By connecting them with the Senior Alliance information and assistance team, they will connect that participant to available programs and services.

Jason Maciejewski (08:42):
And Lori, has there been an opportunity when you’ve talked to a Friendly Reassurance participant and referred them to information and assistance?

Lori Zimmerman (08:50):
Yes. I’ve talked to a number of people, but I’m thinking of one person in particular. We asked him if he would like to be part of the Friendly Reassurance Program, and he said he definitely would. He was definitely socially isolated. Um, this was right at the beginning of COVID restrictions. He had just recently lost his sister as well, and so he really didn’t have anyone to rely on. So, he liked the idea of receiving the phone calls, but he also, because he wasn’t getting out, he did not have food in the house. He needed groceries. He had a need for in-home care services. And so, we ended up doing just kind of an overall assessment at an information and assistance to see what other programs and services he could get connected with.

So this is someone who ultimately ended up on our care management waitlist. We assisted him with some groceries, but then we also connected him with a church so that he could get regular ongoing food that was brought to him on a weekly basis. And, this is somebody who actually continues to call I&A as he needs any type of resources or has any concerns, so he’s a pretty well-established person with I&A at this point. And it’s kind of nice too, because being that he is a Friendly Reassurance participant, if there’s any issues that he ever has or concerns, he will talk to his Friendly Rassurance caller, and they will, in turn, call me and say he’s in need of this or that, and then we can give him a call back and take care of whatever concern it is that he’s having.

Jason Maciejewski (10:26):
And Lori, Is there anything you would like to add about Friendly Reassurance that we haven’t covered today?

Lori Zimmerman (10:30):
I’d just like to remind everyone again that this is a program for people age 60 and older, who live in our service area, and it’s meant for those individuals who are primarily homebound and have very little socialization. To do an intake for the program, the person or family member can simply call our main line at (800) 815-1112 to speak with an information and assistance specialist. They’ll do a quick intake and then send it over to me for processing, and calls are usually assigned to one of our Friendly Reassurance team members within the same week. So, it’s a pretty quick turnaround that they are able to get services. And what has been really nice about this program is that because, I mean, you think we have 217 participants in this program who all have, you know, other needs and may need resources, and as Theresa said, she’ll send them over to the information and assistance department, so not only are they receiving the Friendly Reassurance services, they also have access to other resources and programs just by being part of that program, so it’s really been a nice connection there as well.

Jason Maciejewski (11:42):
Lori and Teresa, thanks for joining me today to discuss Friendly Reassurance. Thank you for being on the podcast.

Lori Zimmerman (11:48):
You’re very welcome.

Theresa Coleman (11:48):
Thank you, Jason.

Jason Maciejewski (11:50):
If anyone has questions about services or programs the Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at 1-800-815-1112, or email us at Information about our agency or the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at On Facebook, we can be located by searching for the Senior Alliance. Finally, our Twitter handle is @AA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside the Senior Alliance.

Inside the senior Alliance is a production of the Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.

Categories: Podcasts