The HELLO Project addresses the senior citizen loneliness epidemic and higher-than-average suicide rate in Washoe County, Nevada. The county, with a population of close to one-half million people, has a suicide rate among those over 65 that is twice the national average and for those 85 and older it is four times the national average. The project received a BUILD Health Challenge award of $250,000 as well as funding from Renown Health and others in the community for a total of well over $500,000. The project uses a variety of interventions to decrease loneliness, including art projects, social gatherings, food delivery, and podcasts. Surveys allowed for an initial understanding of the target population and evaluation of the effectiveness of the interventions in decreasing long-term loneliness. As an intern, I participated in monthly stakeholder meetings, provided input at weekly staff meetings, and edited bi-weekly podcasts.
Although my role in the overall project was somewhat small, I was able to see firsthand how difficult it is to make a meaningful and measurable difference in the lives of such an isolated population. I was also able to apply many of the principles of public health interventions I have learned to a real-world project. I especially appreciated seeing how the project managers adapted to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Throughout the process and meetings, I saw how important communication and collaboration are to the overall success of a project.