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Pay It Forward: TeleHealth Access for Seniors

Westwood High School students help seniors stay connected to their doctors.

AUSTIN, Texas — When it comes to health care, senior citizens seem to be more comfortable going to the doctor's office than fiddling with an iPad for a doctor-patient video chat. Fortunately, some students at Westwood High School are there to help. 

"I think 70% of their patients don't have devices to access on their own," said student volunteer Nirup Kushalnagar.

The Lone Star Circle of Care at El Buen Samaritano in South Austin just received a special delivery.

"These devices are mostly any device with a camera on it, like phones and iPads," added Kushalnagar. 

Seniors who suffer from chronic conditions need continuous care. With the help of technology, they can use devices like these to stay connected to their doctors.

That's where the nonprofit TeleHealth Access for Seniors comes in. Westwood student Sidh Pandit heads up the volunteers. In fact, all of Austin's 17 volunteers are Westwood students.

"Tele-health just provides a cost-efficient way for seniors to get health care," said Pandit. 

TeleHealth Access was formed by a couple of Yale students at the start of COVID-19. It's since expanded to 26 states, including Texas.

"One of the founders, actually their parents own a private practice for healthcare and they have a lot of personal experience with patients that have trouble accessing telehealth and virtual health care services," said Pandit. "Basically we reach out to clinics and we see if they need these devices. Sometimes they reach out to us."

Their focus is on fundraising. Volunteers make money by offering other kids tennis and debate lessons, tutoring, lawn mowing even dog sitting.

"All of the money that Austin specifically collects goes to buying devices for Austin clinics," said Kushalnagar. 

Funds raised go through a corporate matching program. The more dollars, the more devices, the healthier we keep our seniors at a time when it's important to social distance. 

"During a pandemic, of course, if chronic conditions go untreated and they become more complicated, you have to an emergency room, you have to go to specialists. It risks spreading the virus and transmitting it significantly," added Pandit.

TeleHealth Access for Seniors also donates devices to Meals on Wheels, Baylor Scott and White and a few other local clinics and organizations. 

KVUE and Charles Maund Toyota awarded TeleHealth Access with $1,000 for paying it forward. 

"Wow, I'm really surprised and I'm really grateful. It is just so great to see how happy this makes seniors. They really needed this," said Kushalnagar.