June 11, 2020

PEARLS Connect & PEARLS Equity Updates

Rachel Seymour

The University of Washington Health Promotion Research Center (UW HPRC) is excited to share the work its researchers have done with two PEARLS studies — PEARLS Connect and PEARLS Equity.

Adapting During COVID-19

Because the coronavirus pandemic is affecting our partner organizations and those we are looking to build partnerships with for our PEARLS studies, we anticipate impacts to our current projects and their timelines.




“PEARLS Equity: Expanding Access to Depression Care for Underserved Older Adults” is the core research project for the 2019-2024 funding cycle. The study’s ultimate goal is to help provide equitable access to depression care in underserved communities. Priority populations for the study include older adults who are experiencing poverty, are community members of color, have limited English proficiency, and/or live in rural areas.


Where We Are Now

Since October 2019, UW HPRC researchers have been working on the formative, first year tasks of the project. They have been conducting phone interviews with organizations serving the populations UW HPRC wants to reach, creating a plan for recruiting organizations to participate in the next phase of the study, and designing an online survey and ongoing data collection system.

Phone interviews with organizations will help researchers gather vital data and information that will inform the creation of new messages, materials, trainings, and/or other products for communicating about and delivering PEARLS.

WHO: Interviews are being conducted with community-based organizations that could provide PEARLS and organizations that could provide funding for PEARLS in Washington and California. These organizations all engage with underserved communities, but have a varying level of knowledge about PEARLS. Some are not familiar with the program, some previously used the program or trained counselors for it, and some currently provide the program or funding for the program.

WHAT: Researchers want to better understand how these organizations hear about and select programs to provide or fund for their communities, how organizations talk about depression with their communities, and how UW HPRC can help make depression care more accessible.

WHEN: Interviews began in February, and researchers completed 16 by end of March. Since many community-based organizations are currently focused on responding — directly and indirectly — to the coronavirus outbreak, further interviews will be conducted at a later time.

Next Steps

Researchers will analyze data from the phone interviews to understand how UW HPRC can improve communications, trainings, and the PEARLS program itself to better fit the needs of underserved communities.

PEARLS Connect


The AARP Foundation funded PEARLS Connect in 2017 so researchers could study the effect of PEARLS on social isolation, along with the economic impacts the program could have on older adults using health services or transitioning to nursing homes. UW HPRC researchers are working with organizations who were already offering PEARLS in Florida, Maryland, New York, Texas, and Washington. The project is expected to wrap up in 2021.


Impact on Social Isolation

PEARLS Connect uses both surveys and qualitative interviews to assess what impact PEARLS has on older adults’ feelings and perspectives about their socially connections, which can ultimately impact their mental health.

1st Social Isolation Survey: Community-based organizations use this survey when enrolling older adults in PEARLS to gain a comprehensive understanding of how they feel about their social connections and the emotional support they receive from friends, family, and community.

2nd Social Isolation Survey: UW HPRC researchers conduct phone surveys with older adults who have recently completed PEARLS. These second surveys help show the immediate impact of the program on older adult’s feelings of social connectedness. Researchers are also conducting separate qualitative interviews with some of the program graduates to gain a deeper understanding of how PEARLS affects older adults.

351 surveys and 26 qualitative interviews have been completed as of early May.

3rd Social Isolation Survey: One year after older adults enroll in PEARLS, UW HPRC researchers conduct phone surveys with them to evaluate the program’s long-term impact. Older adults have typically been out of the program for about six months at this point.

135 surveys have been completed as of early May. Researchers will continue these surveys through the fall of 2020.

Impact on Economics

Preliminary findings suggest significantly fewer inpatient hospitalizations, days in the nursing home, and deaths among older PEARLS participants. UW HPRC researchers have applied to present this information at the American Public Health Association’s 2020 conference this fall and also plan to have their findings published in an academic journal.

Next Steps

As key milestones of the project are completed, researchers will analyze data and share results with our UW HPRC community, partners, fellow researchers, and policy-makers.

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