A woman recently called Colchester Police Sgt. Michael Fish, concerned she hadn’t heard from an elderly friend who lived in town — an unusual scenario, she advised, because they typically spoke on the telephone daily.
When Fish arrived at the home to check in, he found the old woman had fallen and sustained serious injuries. She’d been lying on her floor in a pool of blood for more than a day, he said, unable to move.
Fish summoned medical assistance and said the local woman was eventually OK. Still, he was shaken by the incident. He especially wondered how her outcome may have been different if a friend hadn’t noticed something was awry so quickly.
Fish has since launched an effort called “Hello, How Are You?” The program, inspired by similar offerings in Maine and South Burlington, allows elderly residents to sign up for a phone call from the PD once a day.
“We really have to start doing something to make sure our senior citizens [have] somebody talking to them every day,” Fish said. “You can’t wait a couple days. Something has to be done to make sure they’re being checked on.”
Applicants must live alone in Colchester or with someone unable to render assistance in an emergency and not be in regular daily contact with another person, according to the application form.
Participants will also hand over a copy of their house key. If the department can’t reach the elderly person after three attempted calls, officers will stop by the home to confirm all is well — entering for a welfare check without having to break down the front door.
Fish envisions most of the calls happening between 8 and 10 a.m. when retirees are often still home, but said the schedule can easily be altered to fit individual needs. Folks can also request less frequent calls if they desire, Fish said.
Program applications are available on the CPD website, the department Facebook page and at the station. Officers can drop them off if interested parties are not mobile, Fish said.
No applications were submitted to CPD at the time of his interview with the Sun last week, but Fish said he’s already fielding calls from volunteers interested in helping out with check-ins. That will be helpful, he noted, if the program really starts to take off.
“We don’t want somebody just to get missed, fall through the cracks,” Fish said. “We just want to make sure that everybody who needs to talk to somebody … has somebody to talk to.”
And while safety is undoubtedly the main aim of “Hello, How Are You,” Fish said he thinks there will certainly be secondary benefits.
Just last year, a University of California, San Francisco study found more than 40 percent of seniors experience loneliness on a regular basis, according to an editorial in the Washington Post.
Those feelings of disconnect and isolation can lead to a host of emotional and physical problems, the article noted, even prompting a more rapid cognitive decline.
“The biggest thing we want to do is make sure these folks are safe. They deserve to be taken care of as they’ve gotten older,” Fish said. “That chat once a day could brighten somebody’s day up.”
Fish said members of CPD are extremely receptive to the idea, with many saying they often worry about a medical event happening to their own elderly parents or grandparents.
“If it’s just one person, that’s all the matters,” Fish said. “We’re getting in touch with these folks before an emergency takes place.”
For more information about the “Hello, How Are You” program, visit http://colchestervt.gov/2898/Hello-How-Are-You or call the Colchester Police Department at 264-5555.