Maryland group uses old smartphones to help coronavirus patients

One Takoma Park, Maryland, nonprofit is using old smartphones to help COVID-19 patients. The organization, Secure the Call, is hoping anyone eyeing a new smartphone for Christmas will donate their old phone.

Secure the Call takes old smartphones and sends them to hospitals across the country so patients in coronavirus units can keep in contact with family and friends.

The organization was founded 17 years ago to collect old and unused cellphones and distribute them to those who may need to contact emergency services but can’t, such as homeless people, women in shelters and patients in senior care. But the group’s made a pivot since the start of the pandemic.

Secure the Call’s head volunteer Neal Holtz said the change came when the organization started getting calls from hospitals asking if they had any smartphones to spare for COVID-19 patients.

“People are literally in the hospital with no way of communicating to the outside world. Nurses and doctors are going by and holding up their phone and letting them FaceTime or Skype with their loved one but that’s at a very limited rate,” Holtz said.

Secure the Call takes smartphones that are donated and makes sure that they can connect to Wi-Fi. Volunteers also install three video chatting apps: Zoom, Google Hangout and Facebook Messenger. Then, the group ships the phones and a charger to hospitals that need them.

While most patients bring a phone with them, Holtz said some don’t. Older patients who may be in the hospital longer are even less likely to have a smartphone that can video chat.

So far, Secure the Call has sent thousands of phones to over 200 hospitals across the country.

But Holtz said they’re in need of even more phones, because the pandemic is still increasing demand.

This year, smartphone donations are down 50% because of the coronavirus.

“Our collections are down right now because of COVID. Around the country, we have several hundred of these collection barrels but a lot of them are in locations that are not even open,” Holtz said.

Secure the Call has its signature barrels at any Mom’s Organic Market in the capital region. The organization also accepts mail donations.

And if you’re worried the group won’t take a phone because it’s broken, Holtz said, “We’ll take any phone… we can fix phones or use them for parts.”

The group also accepts used tablets.

Find out more on how to donate on the Secure the Call website.

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