Janine Cadet ’13 knows what isolation and loneliness can do to a person. As a second-year medical student at USC, she recently conducted research into how social isolation affects healthcare and healthcare systems. Her timing may have been eerily prescient, since she never knew she would see her research come alive in front of her. “We have been hearing so many stories of how people are isolated because of COVID-19 and though it is necessary, it’s heartbreaking for the patients and their families,” she says.
A week ago, Ms. Cadet received a call from fellow Princeton alumni who outlined a plan, and a network, to change that. “One of the reasons people aren’t able to connect with friends and family is the lack of technology, often because they are older patients or because they are low-income,” she explains. Their newly formed grass-roots nonprofit, Connect for COVID-19, would alleviate that by fundraising and soliciting donations for used mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. Connect for COVID-19 is comprised of a network of Princeton University alumni in medical schools across the country who serve as regional health leads. Each lead is responsible for arranging the donation distribution by working with their area hospitals and healthcare facilities. Ms. Cadet is responsible for LA County.
It has only been just one week so far, but the nonprofit has already received 40 devices from individuals and secured a bulk donation from Princeton University. Their GoFundMe page has reached more than $3,000 of their $10,000 goal and the first shipment of donated equipment is set to arrive at a Philadelphia hospital later this week.
“Having done isolation research before and coming into this pandemic where isolation is the only answer, it’s pulling at my heartstrings,” explains Ms. Cadet. “This organization gave me a way to help—by keeping people connected. We can’t stop the quarantine but we can make sure they’re not suffering and are virtually surrounded by loved ones.”
As a second-year student, she would typically spend the semester studying for the board exam, but she has turned this unexpected free time into an opportunity for service. “We hear about doctors and nurses using their own devices to help families connect to their patients. It really made us think that if we can take something off the plate for the doctors and nurses, we are helping them, and if we can help patients connect, then they aren’t suffering alone.”
As the pandemic eventually wanes, Connect for COVID-19 plans to charge forward. “Our preliminary research at LAC+USC Medical Center showed that 30 percent of in-patient individuals identify as isolated or lonely, so this was a problem before this started. We want to promote digital connectivity and once the devices are donated, they are going to remain in the hospitals.”