AARP Eye Center
When COVID-19 hit in early 2020 and older Americans were isolated in their homes and in desperate need of trustworthy pandemic information, AARP responded with a digital-age update of an old American tradition: a call-in town hall meeting.
The host of the town halls from the beginning has been Bill Walsh, a former Washington-based journalist who covered presidents and Congress, and is now a vice president at AARP.
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“We knew from the start that older Americans were going to be hit hardest by COVID and they were hungry for information they could rely on,” Walsh said. “The tele-town halls have enabled people to hear directly from top health officials—and pose their own questions as well.”
Three years and some 80 programs later, AARP has reached more than 4 million people around the country. Separate video and audio segments with tele-town hall experts have reached millions more. Callers have had the chance to hear directly from top health officials of the Trump and Biden administrations dealing with the crisis, and ask them questions like: “Why can’t I find vaccines in my town?” “Should I clean my mail before bringing it inside?” “Should I skip Thanksgiving dinner this year?”
Those tuning in stay for an average of 17 minutes. “That’s a remarkably long stretch in an era of texts and emojis,” Walsh says.
The events also air on YouTube and Facebook, and the discussions are captioned for the hearing-impaired. Real-time Spanish translations are also now available.
The topics for the tele-town halls have varied. AARP experts have talked about saving money in inflationary times. Legendary talk show host Phil Donahue and his wife, actor Marlo Thomas, discussed keeping marriages fresh during isolation. And Drew and Jonathan Scott of Property Brothers talked about easy ways to tweak your home if you’re suddenly required to make it a work space.
But staying healthy during the pandemic has been the central theme, and guests have included a who’s who of leading health officials and researchers. The tele-town halls have also brought on dozens of doctors, caregiving experts and financial advisers who dispensed advice on everything from avoiding COVID scams to reporting stimulus payments on tax forms.
AARP plans to continue the town halls on a variety of topics into the foreseeable future.