Protected: Humana, Florida International University combat senior isolation 

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Realizing that social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions were limiting personal connections,  late last year Humana and Florida International University worked with Papa, a Miami-based company that matches college students to older adults affected by loneliness, to connect Humana members and FIU students telephonically.

Feelings of loneliness and social isolation are associated with a 26 percent increased risk of early death and are exacerbated due to the  pandemic and of particular concern within Humana’s senior Medicare Advantage population.  

The students, also known as Papa Pals, supported the older adults not just in offering someone to talk to, but also to aid in helping them understand available technology for daily tasks such as ordering groceries, refilling prescriptions, accessing health plan benefits, attending online exercise classes, and scheduling virtual or telehealth doctor visits. As part of the partnership, FIU students were compensated as Pals and some received credit toward field placement hours, thus alleviating some of their immediate worry for income and needed in-person training. It also gave the students needed human connection during what was also an isolating time for them. The program served more than 600 members and 30 students were able to complete thousands of virtual visits. 

The collaboration was part of Humana’s broader strategy, engaging with academic institutions, to advance population health, improve health outcomes and expand value-based care principles within healthcare and affiliated disciplines. A vital part of the strategy is to address social needs and determinants of health – such as loneliness – and do so in a way that connects community members to local resources and clinicians who understand whole person health, the interrelationship of social, mental and physical health. 

Humana believes focusing on social health, advancing medical education, and realizing a return on investment in health-related social needs requires non-traditional partnerships and collaboration across the health ecosystem.  Working with FIU and Papa fit squarely into the framework it envisions for a future connected whole-health experience. 

The FIU initiative engaged students, many of whom were pre health professionals; being a Papa Pal afforded real life experience relevant to their future roles. 

“As a minority-majority serving institution, FIU is particularly suited to this work” said Dr. Yolangel Hernandez Suarez, Vice Provost for Population Health and Wellbeing. “Many of our students come from multi-generational homes and are bilingual. Moreover, FIU sees health and health promotion as a matter of equity. FIU’s commitment to graduating students who will impact population health through social entrepreneurship make this a perfect collaboration.” 

Tray Cockerell, Director of Strategy Advancement at Humana, said that the initiative was unique in that Humana worked alongside FIU leaders to consider how, together, they could best improve health in communities and prepare students to problem solve in different patient situations.