“We know that loneliness is actually a real negative on people’s health. It has a tendency turn into depression and depression carries some pretty significant adverse health consequences. So, you can imagine when COVID hit, we were watching loneliness skyrocket.

Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t treat it very well. You can treat depression, but loneliness is a whole other animal. To be able to treat that, you have to think outside the box. With healthcare providers, we’re often best at looking where there is a medication we can treat with, or services we can render. But, the services aren’t often, can we connect the patient with a friend?

We’re getting better at this now and I’m proud that in healthcare, we’re starting to see that there’s a much better way to deliver care to people in much more holistic way. But it takes an entire community to do that, so we’re in the process of learning and trying things out.

I’m just stubborn and impatient enough that in Shirley’s case, because we were close and because we walked through two life-changing events together with her health, I figured she would probably let me test drive something.

I felt comfortable enough with her, I knew all of her kids, so I knew that they would support me. So, I just of went off script with the idea of introducing my family to her. I don’t know that that’s scalable across the society, but I think it might be. I think it’s possible if we look at our employed workforce and how they donate their time in the community.

One of my beliefs is that as a society, we can actually do this better. It doesn’t cost more money, and it doesn’t require gigantic organizations. It literally can be as small as everybody doing their part with one person.

It reminds me of a story about a boy walking on a beach somewhere along the ocean after a storm. The storm had washed in literally thousands of starfish, and the boy walked along the beach, pick up a starfish and throw it back into the water. An older gentleman came along and asked the boy what he was doing.

He said ‘I’m saving the starfish.’

And the man said, ‘There are tens of thousands of starfish here. You can’t possibly believe that you are making a difference.’

And the boy picked up a starfish and he looked at it. He looked at the man and tossed it in the water he said, ‘Well I made a difference for that one.’

I have this vision that maybe by starting with me as the boy on the beach, that if you can just reach out to one person, it can change somebody’s life.”

Listen to more of this this heartwarming story about how Dr. Sasha Savage, Chief Health Officer for THRIVE and the medical director for the Family Practice Center at MidMichigan Health and his wife Heather reached out to help his patient, Shirley Debolt, make it through the isolation of the pandemic below from The Visibility Project.

Sharing the gift of time with Shirley Debolt, Heather Savage and Dr. Sasha Savage