When Covid closed businesses and kept us at home, many of us powered up our devices and started to connect on Zoom, FaceTime and in other ways. We attended work meetings from our living rooms, had virtual game nights, and talked to our health providers in our pajamas. But for people without a computer, iPad, cell phone, or stable internet, these connections were impossible. Many were left isolated without a way to reach friends and family. For people living on Maine’s unbridged islands, this separation from the outside world is not new but for those who could not connect, suddenly the gulf was much deeper. Staff aboard the Mission’s Sunbeam noticed which islanders were being left behind and took action.
Through a grant from the Celia Lipton Farris and Victor W. Farris Foundation, Sharon Daley, RN, Director of Island Health, provided nine islanders without an internet connection with iPads and either a hotspot or another way to connect so they could attend virtual medical appointments. They then paired each recipient with another resident who would provide support tech help. While the iPads have helped bridge the connectivity gap for islanders, they are also providing each person an opportunity to do things they have never been able to do before.
Leland K. Small, who lives on Isle au Haut, calls himself tech adverse. He has never owned a cellphone or a laptop, but when Sharon approached him about an iPad he agreed. “Now that I am getting older, I see the use for an iPad,” Leland says. “I wanted to exercise my brain and it’s been a useful tool.” While he is still learning the basics, he is looking forward to the day where he can watch videos about how to make fixes to his boat.
Leland will also have a doctor’s appointment in a few weeks using the iPad. This means he no longer must worry about taking the mail boat and finding a way to get to his appointments. “Living on an island, going any distance is difficult. You take the mailboat and it has a schedule. If you miss it ‘uh-oh,’” he adds.
The iPads and the ability to set up appointments have eliminated the hurdles many islanders face when getting healthcare. And for those who want to attend AA meetings or other support groups, they can easily connect to meetings both near and far. As people learn how to use this new technology Sharon can already see their worlds slowly changing. “Access to services via iPads means more than connections to health care. It means connections to the mainland, family, and friends. It allows buying of needed supplies instead of an expensive trip off island. I am so proud of people who have rescinded to learn and profit from something new. These devices permit continued learning, access to resources like buying online, and an increased sense of autonomy and control of one’s life.”
And while the program started by giving iPads to older islanders, a few iPads were given to younger residents and Sharon is also working to provide an iPad to a clinic on Cliff Island. “The provider can then bring the iPad out with them into the community and connect patients to a doctor in Portland.”
Leland is slowly learning more about the iPad and he is getting more comfortable with it. When a tech-savvy teenage resident recently went through each app with him, he took copious notes and is excited about what he will be able to do, “I think it’s greatly beneficial. It’s going to be extremely useful for me.”