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Program checks in on seniors

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

“They treat you like a human — not like anything’s wrong,”65-year-old Trudy Perkins said.

Perkins is one of 15 Lincolnton residents who are part of the police department’s “R U OK” Program, designed to check on area senior citizens and other individuals who either live alone or just want to be checked on during the day.

The program is as simple as its title, Lt. Matt Painter, head of the agency’s Community Services division, said.

Painter and Officer Kameron Keener divide the program’s list in half and call residents from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

While various other law enforcement agencies throughout the state have similar programs, Painter said Lincolnton is the only agency that takes time to physically call people.

Most other programs are computer-driven — a system Lincolnton Police Department operated until about five years ago.

Painter said most of the individuals on the list simply pick-up and say that they are “OK” while others chat about their day, TV shows and family and consider the call the highlight of their day.

Perkins couldn’t agree more.

“It is excellent,” she said. “I wait for that call every morning.”

The Lincoln County native remembers the one time she forgot to tell police she would be out shopping one morning and how they flocked to her residence, fearful she could be in danger.

Painter said officers always dispatch to a home following two consecutive calls to a resident without an answer.

While at the person’s home, police look to see if a vehicle is in the driveway or if neighbors have seen the resident.

Officers also keep a copy of the house key, if a resident allows, in case they have to go inside and conduct a search. Painter said each person’s file also lists medical conditions and emergency contacts.

If necessary, police will call the hospital looking for a person.

Officers even broke into a residence last summer after receiving no phone response from a resident.

“We could see her laying in the living room,” Painter said. “She had fallen.”

Police said the particular situation is exactly what the “R U OK” Program is designed for.

However, not everyone on the call list is elderly. Individuals range in age from 60 to 95 years old, Painter said.

While the program has been quite successful over the years, limitations do exist, including the time it takes to call and talk to each person. With the current system, police said they won’t be able to add additional names to the list unless they can acquire a larger number of residents and change the system, having people call in to the system instead.

The change in the program’s procedure would also allow individuals to call any time of day that best fits their schedule, including weekends, since someone is always present at the agency’s front desk, Painter said.

Police are looking to expand the program and are even willing to speak at area churches on the topic.

Twice a year the program’s participants get together for a Christmas party and summer ice cream social.

Painter said the individuals enjoy getting together to meet each other and fellowship.

Any church or resident who would like more information on the city program can contact Painter or Keever at (704) 736-8900.

The Lincoln County Communications Center also conducts a free “R U OK” Program for county citizens, according to the agency’s Communications Coordinator Coral Saunders.

The program also targets seniors and disabled persons, but unlike police, is computer-driven and maintains only 13 residents at the moment.

Saunders said the program provides “peace of mind” for both the individuals who wish to be checked on and family members who know a loved one lives alone or has certain physical limitations.

With the county system, a person either presses “1” for “OK” or “3” for assistance.

If a person fails to answer on the first try, the computer re-dials the number after a 10-minute period, Saunders said.

Following a second failed attempt to contact a resident, the system faxes the Communications Center, which immediately dispatches Emergency Medical Services, and if necessary, fire crews.

Saunders said previous to purchasing the newest computer-program in 2008, Communications officials sent deputies rather than EMS crews to residents’ homes.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office also headed the program in its early days but transferred management to the Communications Center since the agency is available 24/7.

“It’s not meant to replace ‘lifeline,’” Saunders said. “We just want to make sure they’re OK.”

For more information on the county “R U OK” Program or to subscribe, call (704) 736-8400.

 

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