Nicole Heppler is a busy woman at the moment. Alongside her full-time job at UBS in Basel, she is supporting two elderly ladies in her neighborhood with their shopping. And as if that weren’t enough, she is also working on a creative solution to help the elderly escape from their isolation.
“Telephone bridge” is the name of the idea that Nicole Heppler developed together with three others at the Swiss-wide #VersusVirus hackathon. Some 4,000 people from throughout Switzerland participated in the virtual hackathon, which was supported financially by UBS. Their aim was to find creative solutions to the social challenges that Covid-19 has brought with it within the space of a weekend.
Nicole’s team of four had 48 hours to find a topic and work on it. They exchanged ideas via the online platform Slack and quickly agreed on a subject: the isolation of older and elderly people. In these times of social distancing, cancelled activities and visiting bans at retirement and nursing homes, the days are long and boring. “Of course some older people are tech-savvy and can stay in contact with the outside world because they know how to use FaceTime and WhatsApp,” Nicole says. But a large number of older people are not familiar with these technologies. What is more, many find it difficult to pick up the phone just for the sake of having a conversation with someone.
The team developed a simple but effective solution. “Basically, it’s a big conference call in which participants can dial in from any telephone,” Nicole explains. As a result, groups of senior citizens can meet for a coffee over the phone, and retirement homes can organize activities that can no longer be held in person via a telephone network. “It could be anything from discussions about the last episode of ‘Tatort’ to group singing to church services,” Nicole says. Dialing in is easy even for people who are not au fait with technology and if anyone just wants to listen, that’s not a problem either. “It’s simply about having some company,” Nicole explains.
The basic framework for the idea was already in place after the 48-hour hackathon. Work continues for the team, however. They are currently in discussions with a telecommunications provider to realize the telephone bridge idea. In a further step, they then want to find a home or a group of senior citizens for a trial run.
Meanwhile, Nicole Heppler is also doing her bit away from her computer to ensure that two elderly ladies in her home town are not forgotten about amid all the isolation. “I buy food for them two to three times a week,” she explains. She delivers the shopping on her e-bike and exchanges a few words with the ladies, always maintaining the necessary distance of course. “I can feel how hard it is for them not to ask me in. I already have a number of invitations to come in for a coffee once all this is over,” she reveals. The ladies also found it difficult to accept the assistance at first. “We started off by getting to know each other over the phone and now the arrangement is working wonderfully. They look forward to our chats and to seeing a new face.” And during one of her visits, she actually set up a “telephone bridge” of a different kind. After it turned out that one of the ladies knew her grandmother, she passed on her grandma’s phone number. The two ladies now enjoy regular chats on the phone.