Path Helps Care For Area Elderly

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"How are you doing?"

That's what Payson Police Department volunteers are asking in a program that phones homebound residents.

Police Access To Homebound, or PATH, checks up on nearly 40 area residents every weekday -- usually seniors and the disabled who are living alone.

"Over the years we've had a lot of people homebound who have fallen and have spent several days in their home unable to get to the phone," said PPD Lt. Don Engler. "This is a situation where the police volunteers can check on them daily and make sure they're okay."

The program originally began three years ago when Payson residents Ruth Craig and Elaine Drorbaugh wanted to see an outreach to seniors by phone, rather than a proposed computer program by the Payson Senior Center. Now the call list has become so long, some who signed up for the program have called the volunteers wondering where their phone call is.

"Older people sometimes get frightened that no one ever checks on them," Craig said. "It works very, very well and it's well received."

Craig said she recently signed her neighbor up for the program -- something Payson police encourage with the consent of the neighbor.

Once someone is signed up, Engler said the volunteers conduct an on-site interview to get to know the person, ask call-time preferences, emergency contacts and any medical conditions or medicine about which they'd like to inform PATH.

After that, it's up to the volunteers to call the resident once a day to ask how they are doing.

If a resident doesn't answer the phone, the volunteer will call the resident's contacts to inquire about any recent information the person might know about the resident, like the last time the two talked.

If the volunteer still comes up empty-handed, a police volunteer or a police officer will go to the home to check on the person to make sure they are okay, Engler said.

As a last resort, police will either ask a locksmith to open the door or they will enter the residence.

PATH volunteer Bill Broce said he loves talking with PATH participants.

"I like working with the elderly," said Broce, 57. "It's filled a need in my life as well as the people we call. I get more out of it than they do."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 29.2 percent of the Payson population was over 65 years old in 2000 and 24.3 percent was disabled.

And 38.7 percent of those over 65 had a disability.

But being a senior and having a disability aren't required for PATH, Engler said.

"We even offer the program to people who have had surgery and maybe need to be on it temporarily," he said. "It's available to people of all age groups."

Engler said most of the people in the program are 70 and older.

Casa Grande also has its own homebound program, serving the city for nearly 14 years.

"This program has been so successful, we've been able to save a couple of lives," said volunteer coordinator Jim Burden.

Burden said Casa Grande police check on 40 residents every day.

For more information or to sign up for Payson's PATH program, call 474-5242, ext. 209 or 220.

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