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Clackamas County, Ore. Wins Achievement Award for Tackling Senior Isolation

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Since 1970, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has accepted entries for its annual Achievement Awards program. The Awards highlight county-level work and give special recognition to counties winning best in category for Health, Human Services, Arts, Culture and Historic Preservation, Community and Economic Development, Transportation and more. The NACo Healthy Counties Team is proud to announce the winner for the 2019 Achievement Award best in Health category, Clackamas County’s Senior Loneliness Line.

With a population just over 412,000 and a total land area of approximately 1,800 square miles, the Behavioral Health Division of Clackamas County, Ore., understood that the rural nature of their county was a vital consideration when they developed the Lines for Life program in 2016. Two years afterward, the Senior Loneliness Line came alive with a dedicated team of specially trained volunteers and staff providing ongoing support through active listening and by connecting residents to resources. Since 2018, the Senior Loneliness Line program has trained more than 160 volunteers, received over 1,900 calls and spent an upward of 462 hours with their callers. The program has successfully deescalated all callers who expressed suicidal ideation and/or intent, lowering the high costs associated with dispatching emergency services and improving the health outcomes of the county.

Social isolation among Clackamas County’s residents is not a unique case. Nearly 20 percent of the American population over age 50 (21.74 million people) are impacted by social isolation, which can lead to increased inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and arthritis. To put this into perspective, that is equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Isolation can also contribute to cognitive decline and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The systemic effects of loneliness point to poorer health outcomes, but the remedy could be a simple one: personal connections.

The Senior Loneliness Line program is committed to improving the health of seniors in Clackamas County by providing personal connections in the following ways:

  • A friendly person to talk to when needed
  • A sympathetic listener trained to provide emotional support and understanding
  • Resources and referrals for grief support, elder abuse prevention, counseling and suicide intervention

Greg Borders, Director of the Crisis Lines Program at Lines for Life, noted that “throughout this process, Clackamas County has demonstrated the vision, leadership and expertise needed to carry out this work successfully," and we on the Healthy Counties team agree.

Does your county offer social isolation interventions? We look forward to working with counties that are implementing or want to implement programs like the Senior Loneliness Line. Please contact Josef Burkart for more information.

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