By Darren Hairston on Mar 16, 2020 9:05:41 AM
Darren Hairston uses technology to connect with and support 4 times the amount of families he did as a social worker.
I get to my desk a little before 11 on a Monday morning to accommodate the different time zones for the states Seniorlink serves. The beginning of the week means I will need to respond to several caregiver inquiries that came in over the weekend. I open my laptop, open Vela, Seniorlink’s HIPAA-secure care collaboration software, which lets me interact with all of the caregivers I’m in touch with day to day and fire up a browser.
I’m a remote care coach for Seniorlink. I have a big caseload, but my job, with the support from my team and the software we use, make my caseload manageable. In fact, I can be helpful to 4 times the amount of people in this job compared to the routine social work I had done before working for Seniorlink.
In some ways, remote coaching has helped me develop relationships with families faster.
I am one of a group of nine care coaches, most of which work out of the company’s Operational Support Services Unit in Quincy, Massachusetts. In my role, I communicate with caregivers across the company’s several states – including Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Georgia – via text message through the Vela app. I am part of a brand-new model within social services, particularly in how we address the needs of caregivers. This is the story of how I got here, and what it’s like to work as a remote care coach.
The path to remote coaching
Professionally, I am a social worker. I have been a family support worker based in Somerville, Massachusetts for the past 10 years. I have strong ties locally and have volunteered, conducted youth support groups, and otherwise participated in the community in several ways since I was in my teens.
I’m used to interacting with people face-to-face. It’s the nature of social work and community engagement after all. At first, I felt that doing this type of work remotely would be, at minimum, a challenge, and at most, impossible.
After one interview with Seniorlink my view totally changed. I found that helping this many people and doing it remotely was going to be just another way to explore my social work background. It was very appealing from the start.
I joined the company in June 2019. While Seniorlink’s benefits, culture, and compensation offerings were attractive, what hooked me was the work itself.
In my new role I would be able to text with my caregivers – particularly popular with the younger ones – which is made possible by the company’s HIPAA-secure Vela app.
Texting is not as secure as we’d want it to be when you’re in the field, but with Vela I have a platform that is secure. That’s where the value is for everyone involved.
With Vela, we can reach people when they need to be reached.
I have access to a content library, which we call Care Protocols internally, which addresses the top needs of caregivers. The library includes about 250 (and growing) diagnosis-specific articles covering a wide range of complex diagnoses and incidents. In particular, the content includes information for patients with dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arthritis, hypertension, renal disease, behavioral health conditions, as well as intellectual, developmental, cognitive, and physical disabilities.
In any other role I would just be looking on my own for this information. At this job, all of it is right there in front of me.
Humanitarian work, but a level-up in skillset
The truth is, my role isn’t all that different from that of a typical social worker. I still help caregivers of people with dementia understand how to navigate Sundowning, and I still coach caregivers on how to help with patients who have trouble walking.
Overall, I still help manage the anxieties that crop up in caregivers as they try to care for their loved ones.
But in terms of my career, I am developing an entirely new skillset that may have otherwise been unavailable to me: tech skills. I’ve gotten to work directly with the product, for example. But I still get to do direct care and build relationships with families.
What we’re doing feels almost like a startup. Our small but growing coaching team is like a family. We look out for one another and make sure if one person is out we all pitch in to support and help with the workload that needs to be completed. In this work, supporting others, whether it be in person or remotely, can be hard so we celebrate each other’s strengths and validate each other’s feelings. We make sure to raise each other’s energy and spirits when times get challenging or difficult.
My relationships with caregivers are not entirely built via text message. I do have phone calls with my caregivers periodically. I’m glad to be able to build on my natural skills and assure my caregivers that there’s a friendly face on the other side of their screens. It’s nice to be able to have a real conversation, to discuss a loved one’s favorite sweet potato pie recipe, for example, to distract people from what’s going on in their daily lives.
Just making a connection with someone, treating them like a human being and guiding them when they need to be guided. That’s what I do here, and ultimately, that’s what everyone needs.
We’re hiring remote care coaches, learn more about this position.