Peer Wonders: COVID-19 Community Heroes (Part 3 of 3)
In part 3 of our COVID-19 Community Heroes series, we had a chance to chat with Roberto Cano, Member Outreach Specialist for Wider Circle. Prior to the pandemic, Roberto enjoyed welcoming new members, answering questions about the company’s Connect for Life® program and inviting them to program events in their local community. When the coronavirus struck, Wider Circle’s contact center quickly pivoted to offer ongoing health check-in calls to every member, many of whom found themselves with limited access to food and medical supplies while sheltering in place. Roberto’s warm voice and familiarity with members’ health plans became a critical component to ensuring Wider Circle’s most vulnerable members received the trusted support they needed. Read on to learn how this 28-year-old native of Columbia, who holds a journalism degree and is known as the “ears and heart of Wider Circle”, has become an everyday hero in the fight against the negative health impacts of social isolation on vulnerable populations, and in particular older adults, during this health crisis.
Roberto, your role as a Member Outreach Specialist looks quite a bit different than when you started with Wider Circle in October 2019. Now you are making over 250 COVID-19 health check-in calls per day! What do these calls entail and how are they going so far?
My role as a Member Outreach Specialist has always been to make sure we provide optimum, quality care to our members, to let them know we are here to help them move forward and enjoy new experiences. The health check-in calls are a way for us to continue to ensure our members have the support and resources they need — and just as importantly — a friendly voice to talk to at this particularly lonely time. First, I ask about any coronavirus symptoms — fever, cough, etc — to make sure they are OK. I will then ask if they have enough food, medicine and mask supplies and if they need assistance making any doctor appointments. We are a free service that is affiliated with their health plan, so we are like a personal extension of their plan and I think they appreciate that. If they aren’t having health-related issues, they are just happy to talk and share stories. Many welcome the calls as a friendly escape from family hardship, the stress of the pandemic, the negativity in the news, etc. They are always grateful for the call, and it is just as rewarding for me.
You seem to have a knack for making really meaningful connections with others. What’s your secret?
Well I guess it’s a combination of nature and nurture. All my life I have felt like I was meant to do this. Since I was a child I have always been a person who has learned to listen a lot to the people around me — what they think, what they feel and what they transmit to me in their words and body language. Additionally, I grew up in the beautiful town of Cartagena along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where my parents taught me to try to improve each day and neighbors really looked out for each other like family. I look at my Wider Circle family in the same way. I can tell by the sound of someone’s voice if they are sad, troubled or anxious and just start to talk to them as if they were my own grandpa, aunt or uncle. Before you know it we are exchanging stories about our childhood and 30 minutes has gone by!
Any favorite experiences or interactions as a Member Outreach Specialist that really stand out to you?
There are many, it’s hard to pick! One member from Columbia moved to the US four years ago, so we immediately shared a cultural connection. I helped her with some issues she was having ordering her diabetes medication, and, recognizing my accent, she shared with me that her children were still overseas and she was very lonely. We reminisced about the tastes of home and how to make the best fried fish. When I called to check in on her the following week, she said I was an angel for her. She said she had more energy and was feeling a lot better. We are now friends and chat regularly.
Any words of advice for neighbors looking to support other neighbors during this difficult time?
In these times we have to stick together. Staying home is the best way to stay safe, but it is so important to connect with a larger support system. Aside from my Wider Circle call network, I use an app to keep a phone tree with my friends and neighbors. I call them all the time, to make sure they are OK. You don’t have to be diagnosed with depression to feel down; we could all use a lift right now. Just call someone to ask if they are OK — and smile while you are talking. They will hear your smile and it will be contagious.