East grad makes health care access for older adults easier

Kim helps population vulnerable to COVID through technology support.

Cherry Hill East graduate and Florida collegian Sunwoo Kim has spent recent months volunteering for TeleHealth Access for Seniors, which seeks to distribute electronic devices to vulnerable populations to be used for virtual doctors’ appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, Kim pauses before a distribution event on Nov. 22 at the VA outpatient clinic in Camden. (Photo credit: Frank Costobile/Special to the Sun)

A 2019 graduate of Cherry Hill High School East, Sunwoo Kim made a smart decision to enroll at Nova Southeastern University in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to continue his education. 

But given the state’s interesting track record on enforcing COVID restrictions, it’s not all sunshine and palm trees for the sophomore.

Amid the chaos, Kim has made another smart decision: pouring his heart into volunteering for the recently formed nonprofit TeleHealth Access for Seniors (THAS), an organization founded by friends who currently attend Yale University. The outfit collects and donates used camera enabled devices for clinics like Veterans Administration hospitals and provides free educational resources such as  guides and tech support to seniors. 

“I was looking for virtual volunteer organizations where I could be of service, and it was a friend of mine I met a long time ago. I would say it was elementary school,” Kim said on how he arrived at TeleHealth Access. “I reached out to a company representative to ask about its purpose and the responses spiked my interest.”

Kim revealed that it was the continuation of the pandemic, and its effects on millions of Americans in the most vulnerable populations who may suffer from other health issues, that drove his desire, and the organization’s, to provide immediate assistance. 

“A lot of people have to utilize telehealth now,” he reasoned. “But the problem is the elderly, low income persons and veterans don’t have access to the technology. They either have older electronic phones or traditional telephones. That was a fundamental goal of the group: to fix that, and do outreach.”

By the end of 2020, THAS was able to provide assistance to patients at 105 partner clinics across 26 states, including New Jersey. The organization, including Kim, boasts nearly 400 volunteers and has raised over $120,000 for an effort that has resulted in more than 3,200 devices donated to those in need.. 

The devices not only enable patients to access care, but also provide easier ways to communicate with their families, especially during ongoing quarantines  where mental health concerns overlay physical ailments. 

Kim noted that the organization recently passed its original goal of distributing just 3,000 devices across the country. Not resting on their laurels, TeleHealth’s new goal is to hit the 5,000 mark, and Kim said that can be easily reached as more states catch on and agree to participate. 

Of course, COVID-19 has slowed the pace a bit and has severely restricted the ability of volunteers to make that outreach personally. Kim was not able to make an in person delivery until just before Thanksgiving, at the VA outpatient clinic in Camden. 

“Our ultimate goal is to be found in all 50 states, and for that, we need more volunteers,” he said. 

Although the township is still an underserved area because most of TeleHealth’s volunteer force is located in the northern part of the state, Kim will have a prominent role once it comes to fruition.  

“My volunteer coordinator put me in charge of taking care of that,” he admitted. ”I don’t have a solid time frame in mind in the near future, but it’s safe to say the organization will come to Cherry Hill by the end of 2021.”

For more information on the organization and how to volunteer, visit: https://www.telehealthforseniors.org/