Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Verizon's "HopeLine": Phones in PA?

On September 19, 2007, Verizon Wireless received publicity from a press release about its "HopeLine" community service, which recently expanded to address elder abuse.

Its press release was entitled "Verizon Wireless' HopeLine Program Raises Awareness of Elder Abuse and Provides Assistance Across the Country". It was reproduced & posted on various business news services, such as here on PR Wire, here on TechWeb, and here on TMCNet.

Verizon Wireless, headquartered in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, is a joint venture of
Vodafone Group, PLC and Verizon Communications, Inc. The Verizon parent is based in New York. Verizon was formed in 2000 with the merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp.; and in 2006 it completed acquisition of MCI, Inc.

Presently, m
ore than 100 million Americans connect to a Verizon network daily. I am one of those customers, both at home & at work.

Verizon maintains a significant presence in the Commonwealth through Verizon Pennsylvania. For example, its Verizon Wireless unit will provide citywide wireless access services to Philadelphia in one of the most aggressive such plans in the country. See: "Philly, Verizon strike agreement on city's wireless plans", by Marc Levy, dated December 1, 2004, posted by the Associated Press.

As to the rest of the Commonwealth, Verizon has what has been called a "right of first refusal" to provide broadband services within Pennsylvania under legislation signed in December, 2004.

Competitors & opponents then said that Verizon was legislated into "
a position of ultimate power to determine both the pricing and availability of future telecommunications services in the Commonwealth." See: "Verizon OKs Philadelphia Wi-Fi project", by Donny Jackson, posted online by Telephony Online.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell on Tuesday signed into law HB 30, a controversial broadband bill, after receiving a last-minute assurance that Verizon Communications would not challenge a plan by the municipality of Philadelphia to provide Wi-Fi services throughout the city.

Under the new law, Verizon is required to provide broadband services--with download speeds of at least 1.5 Mbps--throughout its Pennsylvania service territory by 2015.

In return, Verizon and other incumbent carriers effectively are given the right to veto government initiatives to offer services comparable to those planned by the ILEC. * * *

Since then, Verizon's various Pennsylvania news releases indicate aggressive infrastructure development occurring both in rural areas and in heavily populated regions (such as Berks, Bucks, & Chester Counties, and southwestern Pennsylvania).

Verizon had already benefited the Philadelphia community with a named sponsorship of "Verizon Hall", a 2500-seat, specially-designed, music performance space within the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, which is the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

With this background of activity in the Commonwealth, consider the "HopeLine" program sponsored & publicized by Verizon Wireless recently. See: Descriptions of HopeLine posted by Verizon Wireless,
including Preventing Elder Abuse, History & Background, and Fact Sheet.

HopeLine collects wireless phones that are no longer being used, as well as batteries and accessories in any condition from any wireless service provider at the company’s Communications Stores nationwide. Phones that can be refurbished are sold for reuse and those without value are disposed of in an environmentally sound way.

Proceeds from the HopeLine program are used to provide wireless phones and cash grants to local shelters and non-profit organizations focusing on domestic violence prevention and awareness.

Verizon has taken a socially active stand against a common, but often ignored problem. The advent of the cell phone provided more than just convenience. It can also be an important tool in regards to safety. * * *
For an online video featuring Verizon Wireless employees speaking on the topic of HopeLine as a community service, see: Building Better Communities -- HopeLine.

The HopeLine program has been applied in a few communities nationwide to remedy elder abuse as a particular form of domestic violence.

Wireless' corporate philanthropy program, HopeLine(R), which provides wireless phones and services to victims of domestic violence, has launched initiatives and partnered with elder abuse prevention agencies across the country to raise awareness and help end this type of abuse.
The Press Release reports that, as a part of its HopeLine program, Verizon Wireless:
  • Launched a campaign in St. Louis [Missouri] entitled "Abuse Ignores Age" in which the company created brochures and posters to raise awareness of the elder abuse issue, and promoted a free, 24-hour helpline. The information was displayed in public spaces frequented by seniors including grocery stores, banks and houses of worship. * * *
  • [Partnered with the state attorney general in Ohio to raise awareness of elder abuse. Verizon Wireless printed 100,000 public-awareness posters and 200,000 educational brochures explaining various forms of elder abuse and signs of victimization. The posters and brochures were delivered to local government agencies throughout the state.
  • Worked with the Lexington County, South Carolina Sheriff's Department by using HopeLine phones in a program call S.A.F.E. (Senior Adults with Fones for Emergencies). The phones give senior citizens in their community a way to call for help in an emergency -- whether they themselves are in an emergency situation or if their neighbor is in danger.
  • Joined forces with the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), the Wyandotte and Johnson County Area Agencies on Aging, and the Metropolitan Family Violence Coalition in Kansas to create public education campaigns aimed at raising awareness of elder abuse and encouraging victims to seek help.
  • Donated phones to the Providence House in New Jersey, which serves people over 50 in the Toms River area who are in abusive situations. Phones donated by HopeLine were used in Project Reach, which distributes an average of three phones per month to men and women who are abused.
Gosh, I don't see any projects on this list that are occurring in Pennsylvania.

There should be, considering the business that Pennsylvanians provide -- and certainly will provide in the future -- to Verizon & Verizon Wireless.

In Pennsylvania, there is no need for a privately-operated "elder abuse hotline", since one is run by state government. Indeed, most states already operate such elder abuse reporting lines, as listed by the National Center on Elder Abuse, here.

The PA Department of Aging maintains & promotes a statewide "Elder Abuse Hotline". Complaints or leads regarding potential criminal or civil elder abuse are forwarded to local offices of its Area Agency on Aging system, to the PA Attorney General's "Elder Abuse Unit", or to other appropriate advocacy organizations.

So, instead, I suggest a potential alternative project for HopeLine in Pennsylvania, derived from HopeLine's basic premise and supported by Verizon's core telecommunications business.

I suggest that Verizon provide a supply of mobile telephones and line service for the communal, supervised use of residents in selected personal care homes in Pennsylvania.

Most of these residents have few assets and little income beyond that required for their PCH expenses. Thus, they are unlikely to own mobile phones due to both initial cost & ongoing expense.

Furthermore, operators of personal care homes, who often make little profit, are unlikely to provide such service to residents. For example, see: PA EE&F Law Blog posting, "
PA DPW Closes a Personal Care Home" (09/19/07).

Yet, availability of a mobile telephone on a shared & "as needed" basis could provide numerous benefits to PCH residents, both in the facility and on trips away:
  • Calling 911 for emergency services, including the proposed statewide 911 system being studied by the PA 911 Task Force.
  • Calling general helplines, such as the CONTACT Helpline in Central Pennsylvania.
  • Reporting elder abuse complaints to the PA DoA's "Elder Abuse Hotline".
  • Reporting personal care home violation incidents to the PA Department of Public Welfare.
  • Calling relatives or long-time friends on special days, or just periodically, to maintain personal contact.
  • Communicating with health care professionals & facilities.
  • Contacting professionals or aging advocates for advice.
  • Contacting the local area agency on aging for information or assistance.
  • Checking the programs of a local senior center or other community social services.
  • Communications with the PCH staff when residents leave the PCH for short visits away.
  • Ordering takeout pizza or chinese food (Just kidding -- I wanted to see if you were still reading my list.)
I suggest that Verizon Wireless investigate a pilot program under HopeLine in Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, to determine if there really is a need in personal care homes that could be met by limited mobile phone service.

If not, I urge Verizon & Verizon Wireless to keep looking for a need that HopeLine could meet in Pennsylvania for the benefit of our elderly residents.