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Connect 313—a collaborative organization founded by the City of Detroit, Rocket Mortgage Classic, Rocket Companies, Microsoft and United Way of Southeastern Michigan that aims to close Detroit’s digital divide—recently announced it has begun the distribution of tablets, digital training and tech-enabled healthcare services to thousands of low-income seniors throughout Southeastern Michigan.

This effort, called “Connecting Seniors,” is made possible through the Connect 313 Fund and by a generous grant of $3.9 million from the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities Rapid Response Initiative. This is the first initiative to come from Connect 313 and is emblematic of the organization’s collaborative, community-driven model of investment, which brings countless organizations together to ensure all Detroiters can access the digital world and the opportunity it brings.

“The disparity in digital equity is a systemic, generational issue that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Joshua Edmonds, digital director for the city of Detroit and chief advocate of Connect 313. “Connect 313 is designed to undertake an ecosystem approach to eradicate the digital divide. We’ve already made great strides in connecting students to critical technology resources, but we must not lose focus on our seniors who are facing economic hardship and persistent technology adoption challenges that make telehealth a distant reality. I’m thankful for the numerous partners that have convened to take the necessary first step in securing resources for our community.”

Connect 313 will coordinate the distribution of devices and digital resources with the support of partners including the city of Detroit, Focus: HOPE, Wayne State University, human-I-T, Microsoft + Accenture, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and the Rocket Community Fund (formerly Quicken Loans Community Fund).

The success of this initiative relies on the unique capacity each partner brings to bear:

Focus: HOPE currently delivers monthly food boxes to 41,000 low-income seniors in southeastern Michigan, in addition to other essential services. Connect 313 will leverage these distribution networks and relationships to deliver the devices.

human-I-T is the technology and connectivity provider for Connecting Seniors. They will provide the devices to the target population, along with Wi-Fi-enabled hotspots and technical support services.

Wayne State University will provide a holistic suite of clinical and other health-related services including testing, counseling and mental healthcare. This includes an application that bundles existing Microsoft + Accenture telehealth and COVID-19 solutions to the University’s suite of services. Services will be coordinated from Wayne State’s Schools of Medicine, College of Nursing, Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, School of Social Work and Institute of Gerontology.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan, as the administrator of the Connect 313 Fund alongside the City of Detroit and the Rocket Community Fund (formerly Quicken Loans Community Fund), was the grant writer and will oversee the execution of this particular outcome.

“Throughout the pandemic it has become abundantly clear that we need to be creative in how we connect residents to digital resources,” said Jay Farner, chairman of the Connect 313 Fund Board of Directors and CEO of Rocket Companies. “This initiative, thanks to the support of the State of Michigan, provides an impactful solution for our seniors to access the healthcare they need. We are committed to changing the course for Detroiters through the Connect 313 Fund.”

This effort is a direct intervention for a cohort that has been severely impacted by persistent inequities, resulting in increased health disparities and other poor outcomes, according to the company. A recent study by Wayne State University found that older adults living in Detroit die at two-and-a-half times the rate of older adults living in the rest of Michigan. Moreover, Detroit seniors have experienced disproportionate impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, both in healthcare outcomes and isolation from community support. Access and adoption of tech-enabled healthcare is critical to mitigating these inequities.

In addition to receiving the physical devices and training to use them, seniors and their caregivers will have access to a custom application to connect them to the Wayne State University suite of healthcare services, in addition to numerous tools developed by Microsoft + Accenture in response to COVID-19. The initiative aims to deliver devices, training and tech-enabled healthcare to 4,000 low-income seniors and their caregivers within the next three months.

Seniors and caregivers who are interested in participating in the program can contact Focus: HOPE at 313-494-4240.

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