Irvington Housing Authority, partners provide tablets to seniors

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IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington Housing Authority recently partnered with T-Mobile, Quicklert and Comelit to connect and protect seniors through an innovative venture that could serve as a national model for public housing authorities.

“It was my idea to architect an information management system that would help us address the issues discovered during COVID-19 while trying to improve our communications and provide better public safety to our residents,” IHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia said on Sept. 7. “It’s been a goal to close the digital divide between our residents and others, so modernizing the way we communicate through an innovative technology was a pioneering solution.

“The idea was inspired by a multifaceted strategy,” Garcia continued. “We were modernizing our intercom system through Comelit and NetTarius to offer video conferencing capabilities and advanced security access. Then COVID-19 hit, and we quickly saw a disarray in our communications as residents were facing anxiety, fear and hysteria over the consumption of false or misinformation that kept them sheltered.”

According to a media release, this program is the first in the nation to integrate the Quicklert system, which delivers mass communications and public safety alerts to residents through a custom app, with tablets donated by T-Mobile and given to seniors.

“Quicklert is an innovative technological solution that provides artificial intelligence while equipping the agency with a mass communication vehicle to push emergency notifications, policies and procedures out to our residents,” Garcia explained. “It would have a similar effect to an Amber Alert system, whereby making residents aware in real time of any emergency.”

According to the release, the app is designed to distribute real-time emergency push notifications wirelessly on topics such as COVID-19 and IHA policies and procedures. Tablets will also be connected to IHA’s overhauled intercom system and allow residents to see who is at their door using the tablet’s audio and video capabilities.

The tablets are free of charge for seniors.

“There is no cost to residents, as we negotiated an agreement that required T- Mobile to provide the tablets for free in exchange for us enrolling our seniors in a customized Wi-Fi network outreach initiative,” Garcia said.

According to the town, phase one of this program began Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 with the distribution of 400 internet-ready Alcatel JOY TABs to all senior-occupied units at the IHA’s Nye Avenue and Union Avenue campuses. These tablets will be connected to T-Mobile’s high-speed wireless data network, the cost of which will be covered by a portion of IHA’s CARES Act funding allocation.

On each of the distribution days, tablet recipients were taught to use the tablets during orientations conducted by T-Mobile representatives and IHA staff. Seniors were taught how to use the devices for online grocery shopping, video chatting with friends and family, telehealth visits and wellness checks, and setting prescription reminders.

The additional and personal apps included are designed to go the extra mile for seniors.

“The tablet is designed like a kiosk to make it very user friendly, and it’s equipped with the Quicklert, Comelit, T-Mobile internet and GPS apps to track their device if it goes missing or is taken outside the unit,” Garcia said.

According to Garcia, distributing these tablets to seniors during the pandemic is extra important.

“The tablets and their technology will help the seniors by going contactless and training them to be able to conduct their telehealth visits digitally,” Garcia said. “They will be able to order their medication, groceries and other services online. The tablets will also help with them paying things electronically versus the traditional way that can cause them to be exposed and at risk.

“This will help the IHA better communicate with our residents, by virtue of them having access to real-time information,” he continued. “So, when there is an emergency, COVID-19 guideline reminders, the elevator going down or a water leak, they will be made aware of what to expect.

“Lastly, it improved the public safety to our buildings and residents by them being able to see who’s trying to gain access and eliminate illegal guests into the property.”

Photos Courtesy of Carlos Garcia

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