July 22, 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Meghan Connelly

OHA, Partners Launch the digiAGE Collaborative to Help Bridge
Digital Divide for Older Rhode Islanders and Adults Living with Disabilities

Among the initiatives, $100,000 in grants is available to nursing
homes to help residents digitally connect with family and friends

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging (OHA), in partnership with the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and community partners, announced today the launch of the digiAGE Collaborative – a community-driven effort to help digitally connect more older Rhode Islanders and adults living with disabilities to virtual social networks and other tech-enabled services and opportunities. With today’s launch, OHA and EOHHS also announced the availability of $100,000 in grants to nursing homes to help increase use of smart devices among residents.  

“We live in a digital world – from how we shop, work and bank to how we socialize,” said OHA Director Rose Jones . “For some of our neighbors with limited-to-no access or fluency in technology, the result is an inability to participate fully in modern-day life or access critical services during this pandemic, such as telehealth. This technology gap also compounds the harmful effects of social isolation. I am grateful to our many digiAGE partners and all those working creatively and diligently to empower older Rhode Islanders and adults living with disabilities and ensure they are connected and supported, especially when physically distancing.” 

digiAGE is an outgrowth of OHA’s tele-buddy program, Project HELLO, which was launched during the pandemic to help socially isolated older adults connect with others in the community. The digiAGE Collaborative consists of a growing list of government, community, and business partners who are working together to: 

  • Increase the availability of user-centric technology among older Rhode Islanders and adults with disabilities;
  • Expand internet connectivity among older people, adults living with disabilities, and their family caregivers;
  • And build virtual platforms and content that promote social connection and digital literacy.

Among the early digiAGE efforts, OHA will develop a ‘go-to’ web resource page for information on technology programs and opportunities statewide that benefit older Rhode Islanders, adults living with disabilities, and family caregivers. digiAGE partner, Age Friendly Rhode Island, also launched a statewide virtual community center at . In addition, OHA is partnering with EOHHS/Medicaid and industry to invest in tools and programming that benefit people most in need at this time. 

“The health effects of isolation are well documented,” said Medicaid Director Benjamin Shaffer, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, these effects have been magnified for, or experienced for the first time by, many Rhode Islanders. Now, more than ever, finding creative ways to preserve familiar social connections while physically distancing is vital – particularly for those individuals who are at greatest risk of severe illness and would benefit from services, such as telehealth. I am pleased to partner with OHA and others on digiAGE and make grant dollars available in phase one to help long-term care facilities invest in technology for their residents.” 

Rhode Island’s Medicaid Division, in partnership with OHA, is making $100,000 in grants available to Rhode Island nursing homes that have residents in need of communicative technology – such as tablets, webcams, headphones and other accessories. Eligible facilities can request up to $3,000 to procure smart devices that help residents combat social isolation and access preventative care by connecting virtually with others. For more information about the CMP grant program or to apply, visit . Applications will be accepted through August 7, 2020.

“Providing funds to help nursing homes connect residents digitally with their loved ones is so very needed,” said Maureen Maigret, Co-Chair of Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council. “For months, residents have been isolated from their families. Family members have been devastated not to be able to visit spouses, parents and siblings. Staff have tried valiantly to reduce residents’ isolation while tending to their needs. While visits from families have begun, they will be limited for a time. Being able to do video calls with family members will be a great boost in connecting residents with those who love them. This is an exciting first step for our digiAGE Collaborative to help bridge the huge digital divide for our older population.”

This grant funding is made possible by the federal Civil Money Penalty Reinvestment Program (CMPRP), which reinvests a portion of fees assessed to nursing facilities nationwide for non-compliance with Medicare/Medicaid regulations into state-level system improvements that benefit nursing-home residents. Future phases of digiAGE will include expanding access to the internet and smart devices among older Rhode Islanders, adults living with disabilities, and caregivers statewide; enhancing virtual programming; and increasing digital literacy training opportunities.

“We have to completely redefine what age-friendly community means, when so much of community must take place virtually,” said Catherine Taylor, Executive Director of Age-Friendly RI. “We must advocate for and invest in all five components of a truly age-friendly virtual community: access to affordable internet, access to devices, digital skills acquisition, connection to meaningful programming and human connection. AFRI is gratified to work with many partners as part of the digiAGE Collaborative to identify older Rhode Islanders’ connectivity needs and invest in solutions.”

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 25 percent of U.S. adults age 65+ do not use the internet. It is estimated that an equal percentage of Rhode Island’s older adult population is not online, with the lowest usage among those in lower socio-economic status households. Among Americans living with a disability, Pew reports 23 percent are not online (vs. eight percent of Americans without a disability). 

With support from the digiAGE Collaborative, Age-Friendly RI created a statewide Virtual Community Center (VCC), a place where older Rhode Islanders can go whenever in-person experiences aren’t possible. Older Rhode Islanders of all ages, interests and abilities can join the VCC at for a full daily schedule of free activities to keep bodies healthy, minds sharp and spirits high – fitness, dance, yoga and mindfulness classes; performances, movies and card games; trips and tours; cooking and gardening demonstrations; college classes; info sessions on financial wellness and health topics; live tech help and much more. 

For more information about the digiAGE Collaborative, contact OHA at 401.462.3000.