Southampton County call-in program cares for seniors living alone

Published 12:19 pm Thursday, January 25, 2024

Senior citizens living alone in Southampton County can sign up for a free resource that could result in life-saving aid if they were to fall down or suffer a medical emergency and were unable to access their phones to call for help.

That free resource is the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office’s Senior Call-In Program.

HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS

Seniors in the program are instructed to call in to the dispatch office each day to let the sheriff’s office know they are OK.

“Seniors who participate in the program will have a deputy respond to their home to check on them, every day, in the event that they do not call in to dispatch to let them know they are OK,” sheriff’s office Maj. Camden Cobb said. “This is in the event that someone has fallen or suffered a medical emergency and is unable to get to the phone to call for help. With this program, a deputy sheriff will be responding to their home to make sure that they are OK and to provide assistance if they need it.” 

Courtland resident Charles Jean, 77, joined the program in October, and he described his experience with it. 

“You call in every day between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.,” he said. “So I call them every morning.”

He simply checks in to let dispatchers know he is OK, and he said they note that he called in. 

“If I don’t call in by 10 o’clock, they’re going to attempt to call me,” he said.

If the sheriff’s office does not reach him by phone, this will prompt a visit from a deputy.

To grant the deputy easy access to provide aid, program participants provide the sheriff’s office with a key to their house.

“They put it in a lockbox, the key is in a lockbox, and it can only be signed out by a sheriff’s deputy,” Jean said. “And what happens is, they’ll call you at 10, and if you don’t answer, they’re going to have a sheriff’s deputy get the key and come to your house and try to contact you. 

“They also ask that you give the name or names of people that they might try to contact if they can’t find you, to find out what’s going on,” he said.

He gave the sheriff’s office the name of his daughter who resides in Massachusetts, along with her contact information.

When it comes to calling in to dispatch, Jean has never missed a day, but in the event that he does and he cannot be reached by phone, he said that deputies visited him shortly after he joined the program and “introduced themselves to me and wanted to find out where the house was and make note of that.”

WHAT MOTIVATED HIM TO JOIN

Some of the key factors that prompted Jean to join the Senior Call-In Program were instances featuring seniors who were not part of the program and did not have anyone checking up on them consistently enough.

“This past summer, there was a gentleman that passed away in his home on Ivor Road, which is only about four miles from me where he lived,” Jean said. “I don’t recall his name. He was living by himself like I am, and evidently he had a heart attack, and it was 10 days before they found him.”

Jean also recalled an elderly gentleman who died alone in his small house in Courtland last summer.

“I know a woman that fell that’s not in this area, and she laid there for three days,” Jean said, noting that she was found alive but had gone without care for too long, “and then a day later she died.”

The other key factor that led Jean to join the call-in program was his own distressing experiences.

He noted that he is living by himself now, with his wife having passed away five years ago.

“I had a heart attack about two years ago, and I got in a car and drove myself (about 55 miles) to BelleHarbour,” he said. “As soon as the ER doctor did an EKG, he put me in an ambulance, sent me over to Norfolk Sentara where they cath’d me through my wrist, they said I had at least four blockages, so two hours later, they did bypass surgery. … I was in the hospital for about 12 days. They sent me home. I had a friend come stay with me for a month.”

In another instance not too long ago, he said he was probably doing something he should not have been doing — changing a big tire on the front of a tractor on his farm. He fell trying to put the tire in his truck. He was able to get up and take himself to the emergency room.

However, he shared these stories to highlight the reality that not everyone is able to take themselves to the ER, and he may not be able to eventually either. 

He noted that if he falls or has a medical incident, the call-in program at least guarantees someone will be checking on him either that day, if he has not called yet, or the next day.

“If I call in and check in at 6 o’clock and I’m taking a shower at 8, if I fall, at least the next morning, somebody is going to come here looking for me, and I’m not going to lay there for countless days and expire,” he said.

REACTIONS TO THE PROGRAM

Jean stated that his daughters are “very much relieved” that he has joined the Senior Call-In Program. They call him frequently, but he noted that work demands can keep them from being able to call every day.

He said he has some friends in the community who are senior citizens and are resistant to joining the call-in program because they do not want to give up a key to their house.

“And I said, ‘Well, you know, If you can’t trust the sheriff’s office…’” he said, trailing off and letting the words “…who can you trust?” stand clearly implied.

“I think it’s an excellent program,” he said. “I think that maybe some more publicity would get more people to take advantage of it.”

He said that several deputies have gone to local churches to speak about it.

Cobb noted that the sheriff’s office’s Senior Call-In Program has been active since Sheriff V. W. Francis Jr. was in office and has been continuously active since that time.

The current sheriff, Josh A. Wyche Sr., said, “This is an excellent program with proven results of taking care of our seniors.”

Jean also noted that around the holidays, deputies delivered to program participants bags full of goodies and helpful supplies, including candy bars, diabetic socks, a big can of Belmont Peanuts, Dove shampoo and conditioner, coupons for free Blizzards at Dairy Queen and more.

“I thought that was a nice gesture, and I’m sure a lot of people really appreciate it,” Jean said. “I did.”

HOW TO JOIN THE PROGRAM

Cobb said that to be eligible for the call-in program, an individual must be at least 65 years of age and live alone in their home.

Those interested in signing up for the free program should call the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office at 757-653-2100 and ask about it.