OHA, BCBSRI, Aging Well partner to help bridge digital divide for older Woonsocket residents

Published on Monday, March 22, 2021

New program will equip residents impacted by COVID-19 pandemic with smart devices, internet services, and digital training

WOONSOCKET, RI – As part of its digiAGE initiative, the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) today announced a partnership with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) and Aging Well, Inc. to connect more older adults to digital tools and help further fight the spread of COVID-19. The pilot program will equip older residents of Woonsocket – a community hard hit by the pandemic – with smart devices, internet services, and related training to help them access online resources and virtually connect with family and friends. 

"While the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the limitless potential of technology in connecting us to each other and to opportunity, it’s also magnified the deep and historic inequities that plague many communities,” said OHA Director Rosamaria Amoros Jones. “The internet is a basic tool of daily living today, yet many of our neighbors lack access to it. This affects their connections to healthcare, food, information, and other vital supports – especially right now. I am grateful to our digiAGE partners for leaning in to accelerate efforts to bridge this digital divide and ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to live and age strong.”

Today, technology is a fundamental aspect of life, underpinning how we work, learn, shop, socialize, and share information; yet over a quarter of older Rhode Islanders aren’t online. Through this pilot, Aging Well will partner with the Woonsocket Housing Authority to identify older residents who are not tech users and would benefit from free digital tools and training to help them get online and safely and confidently explore virtual offerings. All program participants will receive smart devices, internet service, and tailored technical assistance. Training will be provided by tech-savvy, local students and volunteers. This pilot is made possible through a $25,000 grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island community health fund.

 “It’s been well documented that social isolation and loneliness have a negative effect on health and wellbeing among older people particularly those without adequate resources, and the pandemic has only further exacerbated that for many,” said Carolyn Belisle, BCBSRI managing director, corporate social responsibility. “We know this pilot will not only increase access to technology devices and services but will also offer important training opportunities to ensure our older neighbors build knowledge and comfort with using technology. We’re grateful to OHA for creating digiAGE to hasten efforts to bridge connection among older adults and the resources they need.”

Rhode Island’s digiAGE Collaborative is comprised of a growing list of industry, government, academic, and community partners working together to bridge the digital divide for older adults through coordinated investments in smart devices, internet services, digital literacy training, and online content creation. According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 41 percent of Rhode Island adults age 65+ are not broadband users, with the least usage among older Rhode Islanders living in lower-income communities. Over 25 percent of older adults in the state aren’t online. A survey of state senior centers conducted by OHA showed an estimated 30,000 older adults living in the community do not have access to technology.

“We are pleased to be working with OHA to help bridge the digital divide for older adults living in Woonsocket Housing Authority apartments,” said Aging Well Director Barbara Waterman. “The pandemic with its social distancing rules has highlighted the need for all of us to be able to connect virtually to our family and friends and to do many things online. Most seniors in Woonsocket miss the classes that were previously held at the senior center. As these classes are now being offered on Zoom and You Tube, the seniors without the necessary devices have been left out and feeling especially isolated and unconnected. We thank BCBSRI for this generous grant as it gives us the opportunity to bring needed devices and training to help more area seniors engage in the digital world."

Since 1975 Aging Well, Inc. (previously named Senior Services, Inc) has been providing services to older adults and persons with disabilities residing in Northern Rhode Island. Its mission is to improve the quality of life and to maintain individuals in their preferred home environment in the community through nutrition programs, health & wellness education, adult day program, and information and referral.

For more information about the digiAGE Collaborative and Rhode Island’s efforts to promote digital equity, visit www.oha.ri.gov/digiAGE.


Azade Perin-Monterroso