Creating Telehealth Education to Meet the Needs of a Senior Community
March 23, 2023
As I hurried to check the mail at the parsonage for the last time, I took in the familiar sights that had been my home for the past three years.
From November 9, 2019, to October 16, 2022, I led the Historic Trinity AME Church in Clarendon County, South Carolina: a rural congregation nestled in the heart of downtown Manning, one block from the infamous courthouse that sentenced fourteen-year-old George Stinney to be executed – earning Clarendon County the ominous reputation of having executed the youngest person in American history.
Admittedly, my excitement about pastoral ministry had waned. After three years of pastoring in a pandemic, struggling to get the church doors open, and burying more than 50 members of a close-knit community of fewer than three thousand people, I’m tapped.
Facing the question, “How does one faithfully lead others when exhausted from watching so many you care about die,” I looked at the image on my desk of my great-grandfather B.J. Bradley marching with Dr. King and reminded myself, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, King James Version, KJV) but rather, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 KJV).
Reinvigorated to remain on the frontlines combating COVID-19 despite no longer actively pastoring, I contacted the Clarendon County Council on Aging. As the operator of two senior citizen centers in Clarendon County that serve as popular venues for family reunions, church functions, and other community gatherings, I knew if anyone had a pulse on how the pandemic was affecting the community, it was them.
“Since March 2020, we’ve come a long way,” remarked Ms. Kiz Everette, Executive Director of the Clarendon County Council on Aging, in our conversations. “Masks are now optional. Vaccines are working, and the community seems to be getting back its footing, but people need to get boosted.”
Reflecting on Ms. Everette’s words, I said, “I agree, but so do their kids and grandchildren. After all, what good is it to vaccinate grandma if her grandchildren are unprotected.”
Knowing that a vaccination program geared strictly toward seniors would have limited impact, we needed to creatively figure out how to build a vaccine program that would touch the lives of seniors and result in their entire households being vaccinated.
After sitting quietly with Ms. Everette, I said, “What if we helped seniors become more comfortable with telehealth services? Their adult children would help them and it would help loop the whole family into their medical care.”
“That might work,” Ms. Everette said, “because if the doctors can talk to both the adult children and the seniors, the doctor will tell everyone to get vaccinated.”
What if we helped seniors become more comfortable with telehealth services?
“BINGO! My thinking exactly,” I replied.
“Great. What’s next,” Ms. Everette said.
Knowing the answer would involve remobilizing the interfaith vaccination partnership of churches and organizations, we hit the jackpot. We began reaching out to partners inviting seniors to attend a new series of virtual workshops hosted by the Council on Aging that would bring in medical professionals to discuss telehealth options and answer general geriatric health medical questions.
Nervous about how the seniors would receive speaking with doctors virtually as we approached our first virtual session, to describe us as anxious would be an understatement – Ms. Everette and I were petrified.
Would the seniors be open to the idea? Would the seniors be able to connect with the doctor and feel comfortable enough to ask questions? And last but definitely not least, would the Wi-Fi be strong enough to last the entire session? (Internet connectivity is always an issue in rural areas.)
To God be the glory, it was a huge success, despite the internet being a little flaky. More than 20 people attended our first virtual session facilitated by Dr. Anu Gorukanti of Introspective Spaces on “The Benefits of Healthier Eating.”
Watching Dr. Gorukanti being inundated with questions by the seniors, Ms. Everette said, “Reverend, I think we are on to something.”
I said, “I agree. I think this will work.”
Now more than six sessions into the virtual telehealth education series and having scheduled monthly vaccination clinics for seniors and their families to get boosted, the only change I would give in responding to Ms. Everette is “I agree. This is working.”
Dominique Isaac Grate was born June 8, 1990, in Long Branch, NJ. He is the son of retired Major Willie James Grate, Jr. and Felicia A. Grate. He obtained his B.A. from the University of South Carolina where he studied under the world-renowned Dr. Stephanie Mitchem, majoring in African American Studies, with a minor in History. In 2008, Pastor Grate received his call to serve in the ordained ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. A 2013 inductee into the National Academy of Young Preachers, Rev. Grate graduated from Wake Forest University School of Divinity, where he was an Ed & Jean Christman Fellow. A Life Member of the NAACP, Columbia Urban League Young Professionals, Alpha Psi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., My Carolina Alumni Association, and Rotary International. Pastor Grate previously served as the Senior Pastor of Historic Trinity AME Church in Manning, SC. His ministry passions include rural ministry, humanitarian missions, and historical preservation. For fun Pastor Grate enjoys playing the board game RISK with friends, reading non-fiction, and watching Netflix/Hulu. Prior to serving as the Senior Pastor of Historic Trinity, Pastor Grate served two charges in the Columbia Annual Conference: Calvary AME Church (Batesburg-Leesville) and New Mt. Zion AME Church (Lexington).
American Civic Life
American Civic Life