Project Lifesaver helps find missing people PDF Print E-mail
Written by PETER KUEBECK Sentinel Staff Writer   
Monday, 14 January 2013 10:55
Jim Stainbrook, from left, Eric Reynolds, Benny Kerr and Jay Harden. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
For those suffering from diseases and disorders that can cause them to wander off or get lost, a new operation in the works could prove to be a "lifesaver."
Project Lifesaver aims to make it simpler and faster for law enforcement to track and retrieve those residents - and hopefully prevent dangerous incidents. The program is of increasing importance as the population of the United States continues to age and the prevalence of certain mental disorders increases.
Directed at people with dementia, Alzheimer's, and conditions such as autism, Project Lifesaver allows caregivers to get radio frequency wristbands that slip easily on the wrists or ankles, and even in clothing, and which can trace a lost family member once they are reported missing to law enforcement. The Wood County Sheriff's Office is partnering with the Wood County Committee on Aging and Wood Lane in establishing the program in the county. Project Lifesaver is itself a non-profit organization based in Chesapeake, Va.
Chief Deputy Eric Reynolds of the Sheriff's Office noted that the individuals focused on by Project Lifesaver are frequently at risk of being the victims of crime when they roam off unsupervised, "so not only can they wander and fall into a river or lake or out in the road and get hit, but they are often victimized by criminals, too. So time is of the essence in these situations." 
The national average tracking time for Project Lifesaver is between 30 and 60 minutes. The bands can track within a three-mile radius, and it is hoped that a northwest Ohio district task force of area counties will be developed; a number of surrounding counties are either interested in the system, already have it in place, or are in the process of implementing it.
The cost to caregivers to participate in the program will be minimal: about $10 a month to replace the battery in the band. The replacement is to be handled by a uniformed sheriff's auxiliary member.
Noting that the bands themselves can be cost-prohibitive - costing $380 - Reynolds said "we do not want caregivers to have to pay for that, so (the band) will be the property of the Sheriff's Office."
The effort has already begun receiving donations. The first donation came from the North Baltimore Eagles Club, which gave $1,520.
The equipment needed, and other necessary elements, are not yet in place.
Reynolds acknowledged that the office receives several calls for wandering individuals each year, and those are especially concerning when they take place in the winter months.
"Sometimes they even get in the car to drive away, which may even make it more difficult because in the car you can get 40 miles in a half hour, versus if you're walking."
Denise Niese, executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging, noted that "we're seeing more folks, more older adults, that are having some cognition issues and as those progress, they may tend to wander. And the Project Lifesaver unit will help to provide a safety net for those individuals."
"It's really good for many populations," she said.
"And it's a very passive tool. The only time it's activated is when someone does come up missing."
The Committee on Aging will serve as the fiscal agent for Project Lifesaver.
Wood Lane Superintendent Melanie Stretchbery explained that, while the Project Lifesaver effort is still being defined here in Wood County, Wood Lane expects to provide training, assistance and some financial backing for the purchase of equipment.
"We serve a number of people who we would be concerned about," she said, and who would be served by the program.
Staff from the Committee on Aging and Wood Lane will do assessments of potential clients. Persons interested in obtaining more information may contact Reynolds at (419) 354-9348.
Other organizations involved in the early planning include the Wood County Veterans Assistance Center, Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio, the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, Autism Society of Northwest Ohio and Family Information Network of Northwest Ohio.
Project Lifesaver has already been used to good effect in Ottawa County, which has had it established for a number of years. Carol Gilchrist, who directs the program for that county, has had personal experience with it.
"The way I found out about it, my granddaughter became a missing person in Medina County when we were visiting her great-grandparents."
"Amber has been the first person in Ottawa County to ever wear it, and she has been wearing it for eight years now. She has severe autism."
"The benefits of the program are just astonishing," she said.
"Again, this will be for the county, so whether you live in Bowling Green or Rossford and have your own police department, we will provide this service to any resident in Wood County," said Reynolds.
Last Updated on Monday, 14 January 2013 11:04

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