Every morning, the New Castle County Police Senior Roll Call Lifeline calls the homes of seniors and disabled county residents.
On Sept. 20, one call led to finding a 76-year-old woman who’d fallen and couldn’t contact help.
The woman, who lives in Heritage Park, off Kirkwood Highway, was sent to Christiana Hospital.
That moment was called a “save,” and it averages four a year, said coordinator Jana Matthews.
Although the calls are computer-generated, a live person listens in for the nuances that only a real human can grasp. “I want to hear a voice, a hello, a how are you,” said Tom Martin, a volunteer for nine years and the volunteer involved in the program’s latest save.
The county began the free program in 1995, and 181 county residents now subscribe.
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Participation requires filling out a form that ends in a legal release. The form also asks for a lot of details about their health and their life, including things like hidden keys and garage door codes.
Matthews and Martin stressed in separate interviews how all those details are kept confidential and offline, making them “hack-proof,” Martin said. All calls are made from the Sweeney Public Safety Building north of New Castle.
They also emphasized how they view their work as a “contract” with subscribers. “We want to know you’re safe,” Martin said.
At this office, we are tenacious until we can find that individual,” said Matthews, who began as a volunteer on the lifeline, following the volunteering of her husband, Loyal Matthews.
That tenacity also includes reading the obituaries every day, Jana Matthews said, looking for both subscribers and familiar names that might mean a subscriber is attending a funeral.
Saves, sadly but realistically, also include the discovery of subscribers who have died.
How the Lifeline works
The form begins by asking when participants want a call (7, 8, 9 or 10 a.m.) and on what days.
If they cannot be reached after a few calls, Lifeline’s four volunteers and its one staffer reach out to the four contacts listed on the form, hospitals (three ChristianaCare sites and St. Francis) and finally the regional communications center, the 911 operators who dispatch someone from the right police agency.
Three of the four volunteers are seniors themselves, with years of experience in volunteering, she said.
“I like the job, which can be very boring when it runs smoothly,” said Martin, but those saves make it all worthwhile. He personally logged six of the 13 saves two years ago, earning him a Jefferson Award for public service. “It has a purpose.”
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The four-hour shift starts with logging messages from subscribers who don’t want a check-in call that day. The first call is a test to Matthews, and then the calls cycle through, with gaps between each hour’s calls. “We have plenty of room to add more people,” he said.
The Modern Maturity center in Dover has a similar program in Kent County, Matthews said, adding that she has been talking to people in Sussex County about establishing a program there.
The human oversight makes the calls more effective, she said, noting that they listen for subscribers who are “distressed, disoriented or winded. In those cases, we call back. One time that was a diabetic who didn’t realize that they needed help. It was a unique save.”
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