Alumna creates nonprofit, provides telehealth access for seniors

After seeing low-income and elderly communities struggle to gain access to healthcare during the pandemic, Sunnie Liu (‘17), a rising senior at Yale, decided to face the problem head-on. With four years of experience on the Community Service Board at SJS under her belt, Liu started the Texas branch of the nonprofit TeleHealth Access for Seniors to battle the difficulty of accessing healthcare during the pandemic. 

“The goal of Telehealth Access for Seniors is to provide devices to make healthcare more accessible for low-income communities who might not be able to afford them,” Liu said. “We not only collect used devices, but we also raise funds to buy new devices for different communities in need.”

According to Liu, these communities need devices such as smartphones and tablets so that they can attend the online telemedicine appointments that clinics nationwide have started to utilize due to COVID-19. Without these devices, members of low-income communities either have to risk going to an in-person clinic session during the pandemic or not seek healthcare at all.

“The elderly are the people who need healthcare the most, but they also face the biggest problems when trying to receive said care,” said volunteer Prakul Suresh, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2020. “And that’s where TeleHealth Access for Seniors comes in. We provide the proper digital equipment to those who need access to telemedical services but who don’t have the resources to gain that access.”

With branches in Austin, Houston, Amarillo, the Dallas-Fort Worth area and recently Galveston, the nonprofit has continued to expand across Texas since its start in March of 2020. 

Altogether, TeleHealth Access for Seniors has donated over 3,000 devices to their 105 partner clinics across 26 states with the help of over 400 student volunteers.

In order to donate the devices, volunteers from each branch reach out to local organizations, neighborhoods and individual people to collect device donations or monetary donations using GoFundMe. The monetary donations are used to buy unused devices off of Amazon or to replace broken or missing parts of donated devices.

The elderly are the people who need healthcare the most, but they also face the biggest problems when trying to receive said care.

— Prakul Suresh

“Then once we have collected the devices we gather them all together, sanitize them and give them to the clinics we’ve partnered with,” said Oliver Zhou, a senior at Rice University. 

On March 18, 2021, the Houston branch dropped off their second round of devices to low-income veterans seeking access to telehealth services at Combined Arms Veteran Transition Center. According to Liu, the student volunteers in Texas collected over $30,000 in donations to buy devices for patients in need, like those at Combined Arms.

“I was very happy with how the drop-off went because I got to see the impact of our work,” Zhou said. “It was extremely fulfilling to deliver the devices to staff at Combined Arms and seeing how excited they were to be able to give these devices to veterans who don’t have access to technology.”

Liu is hoping to expand TeleHealth Access for Seniors even further across Texas to San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley.

“From what we’ve seen, telehealth will continue to be implemented by clinics nationwide even after the pandemic is over,” Liu said. “I’m excited to see what our volunteers can accomplish in the future.”

The organization welcomes both high school and university student volunteers, and, according to Suresh, the process to apply as a volunteer isn’t complicated at all.

“Anyone can volunteer, and I think the nonprofit would be happy to take in anyone who would want to help,” Suresh said. “If anyone is interested in volunteering or has any donations to make, like tablets or smartphones, please do reach out.”

If interested in volunteering, visit this webpage for instructions on how to get started.