Chicagoan Osvaldo Montelongo was working in the corporate sector while also serving as the sole caregiver for his father, Abraham, who was suffering from dementia. The challenge of balancing his responsibilities became too overwhelming and he reluctantly made the decision no one in the Latino community wants to make when caring for the well-being of an elderly family member: moving them into a senior care facility.
“Being a Latino — Mexican, specifically — you are brought up with the idea of your loved ones (grandparents, parents) live with you until their last breaths and moments,” said Montelongo. “A lot of Latinos here in the U.S. say you don’t put your loved one was in a nursing home, but things are changing, right? There’s a lot more Latinos that are in white-collar jobs and they don’t have the time or don’t have the resources to take care of the loved ones as they probably should. And so there’s a lot more going into nursing homes nowadays.”
The impetus for Montelongo making such an unheard-of decision stems from when his father went missing.
“I knew he already had developing signs of dementia as I looked around the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes,” said Montelongo. “I was exhausted. I went to the local police station to file a missing person report and he was there. Luckily, someone saw him and took him there. … So I was lucky in that sense.”
Montelongo told his college friend, Tornu Ngwayah, of his plight, and they got to work on a software program that shuts down one aspect of the digital divide for marginalized communities.
Through Uptown-based startup ConnectCareHero — which was founded in 2017 by Montelongo (CEO), Ngwayah (chief marketing officer), and Bob Lee III (chief technology officer) — seniors and their families, along with senior care facilities, can access online book-curated activities in their areas propelled by resident demographics.
The virtual activities, which are based on the facility and family resources (desktops, tablets, TV’s, smartphones), includes uploaded videos of entertainers performing magic, comedy, music and cooking shows, among other content — schedule and/or unscheduled.
“A nursing home can hire a performer, and we can put them through our platform so virtual engagement can occur,” said Ngwayah. “Normally, someone would go to a facility to go sing their song, and due to the pandemic [COVID-19], people can’t do that. With our platform they’re [nursing home staff and families] able to virtually engage with the elders through an iPad that they have on their end or whatever means they have.”
Thanks to the software, Montelongo believes that ConnectCareHero can fill the void when it comes to “forgotten” worthwhile activities for seniors — a much-needed resource, he says — due to how the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affects Black and Brown communities. Facilities catering to the Latino demographic have been hit hard.
His experience with his father’s nursing home led to an idea: ‘Man, what if I provided this tool for [people] to stay more connected with their loved ones?’ Especially for Latinos. We want to be connected. We want to live life with our loved ones. And in the U.S. there’s a cultural difference, right? It’s hard to be Latino, and still have that connectedness in today’s nursing home environment.”
Montelongo, who says he can’t disclose the exact number of seniors and their families utilizing ConnectCareHero, says it’s in the “thousands.”
And they’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from families who utilize their services.
“This really gives family members peace of mind,” said Lee. “People want to... get a photo or video of their loved ones performing an activity. That just seems like that has been so reassuring to people. And again, it’s just a very special feeling that we were able to build something like that and get back to family members and connect them together.”
Montelongo echoes Lee’s sentiments regarding access to online activities for marginalized communities.
“This kind of stuff is not offered to [marginalized communities], because it’s out of their price range, and so us saying to a nursing home in the Back of the Yards: ‘Here’s a tool you can use from us to keep your families connected because, at the end of the day, this is a must-have.’”