SAULT STE. MARIE -- A program for seniors that began as a response to the pandemic, is proving more of a success than initially thought.

Sault Area Hospital began its Algoma Senior Telephone outreach program in May 2020 with a small group of participants, but that has grown to feature 31 taking part so far.

"As of the end of December, there were 260 volunteer hours of people calling seniors and having that connection," said Victoria Aceti-Chlebus, geriatrics manager at the hospital.

"Which is a significant amount of effort for our patient population and it’s fantastic."

The program tasks volunteers with making wellness checks on participants via the phone.

Aceti-Chlebus said it's to ensure those seniors aren't being isolated through the pandemic.

"It's created almost like a lifeline for these seniors," she said.

"It's another way for seniors to socialize that's proving to be beneficial for them."

Sara Thompson is a long time volunteer at the hospital and was among the first group to take part in this program last spring.

"It’s been amazing," she said.

"It’s kind of like they invite you into their own room and you just have a little conversation with them, just like you would normally at their table or at their couch."

Thompson said her phone calls will often deviate from straight wellness checks, with those she calls "talking" her ear off.

"They're so on the ball," she said.

"They’re keeping up on current events and we’re talking about, not only the pandemic, but just what are they doing to keep their minds stimulated and keep their days full."

With the hospital looking to modernize and digitalize some of its services, Aceti-Chlebus said this program could stick around after the pandemic.