Monday, August 24, 2009

A Simple, Single Phone Call

The phone rang 12 times at 9:45 a.m, no answer. At 9:50 a.m. the phone rang again, 12 or more times, no answer. The concerned caller dialed a friend to please check on their friend, a 50+ year old female with uncontrolled diabetes and heart problems and a cancer survivor.

The friend found her unconscious on the floor and called 911. How long had this person been in an unconscious state? Of course, it could not accurately be determined on scene, but because she received a phone call at the same time daily, no more than 24 hours, which could have been too long, but a phone call a day is better than no inquiry for days, weeks or months.

She was a client of a locally organized, FREE daily calling service, TeleCare. Besides a wellness check, the call provides at least one social contact with another human being daily.

IntelliHealth On-Line weekly cancer bulletin this week emphasized how a simple phone call could materially improve the self-assessment of cancer patients and others with long-term diseases which severely limit their contact with people or are essentially house-bound alone.

Some of you live alone, perhaps with disabilities or chronic illnesses. At the present time I have a spouse and a dog. Occasionally, Husband (H) and Luckie (dog) take a trip to a nearby town for shopping or man-stuff--like nails, boards, sheetrock, etc.

Sometimes these excursions are days I am having breathing difficulties or some other manifestation of one of several chronic diseases I have. All alone in a 1500 square ft. manufactured home, I may become anxious with a long lists of "what ifs." I try to be busy so time will fly by and realize I'm OK. But this self-described period of home alone is as near as I come to empathizing with the plight of many elderly persons who are alone, often house-bound, 24 hrs./7 days/week.

I also remember when my knees had immobilized to the point of nearly being house bound. I was dependent on someone to assist me from Point A to Point B, if there were more than 50 feet involved. If I should fall, we all were in for a tough time as it was less painful to not get up. thinking the safest strategy was not to move much, I became very sedentary. Fear of falling was utmost in my mind, but the possibility of someone taking advantage of me with my immobility also crossed my mind.

In our retirement community there are persons house-bound by infirmatives and chronic illnesses, who never hear a human voice for days. They may or may not have pets. People are social beings, even if they don't admit it. Mental derangement in the elderly can develop from nothing more than isolation and lack of social contact with other human being.

To this end my best friend (BF), myself, and another person organized a loosely organized group, called TeleCare. The sole purpose of this group is to call persons (clients) once a day, 365 days/year [yes, weekends and holidays] to check on their well-being.

This volunteer service anyone can organize or even do by themselves, should they so desire.

The genesis for this service was an incident my husband (H) encountered while delivering Marion Co. Senior Meals on Wheels.

He arrived at an elderly woman's small apartment, knocked and called to her to alert her he was coming in. He had permission to enter homes with the meals. She called back, "Come in."

Upon entering with her meal(s), he found her on the floor, having fallen that morning. He called 911 and waited for a rescue unit to arrive. The lady said this was not the first time she had fallen; the previous time she had remained on the floor TWO DAYS until somebody found her.

Even though the meals for his route were getting too hot or too cold, depending on the weather, he stayed until rescue arrived. [The meals were stored in very large insulated containers but only retained serving temperatures for a short period of time. The route usually took an hour after he picked them up in a town 15 mi. away.]

He came home, lamenting, there ought to be some way to avoid such incidents.

BF and I had read an article in the Arkansas Democrat about a group in Horsebend, AR who created a similar FREE service which had been in existence nearly 30 years. We set up an appointment with the founding ladies.

Along with our city's Mayor (also female) we traveled over 50 miles to Horseshoe Bend, for an interview with the ladies who were delightful. They shared their procedures and regulations with us, treated us to dinner and enlightened us on other subjects of their beautiful planned retirement community.

Walking on clouds, we left with high hopes for a successful venture.

It has been over five years now and we are still calling. We have never had the enrollment Horseshoe Bend has. But every client we've had is most gracious about our service. We have a core group of 9 faithful volunteers.

We just had our 5th annual luncheon for clients and volunteers at a nice restaurant in the city. It was our best attended event ever.
Here is a simple outline of the service. [I will gladly provide additional details, if desired.]

1. One FREE phone call daily 365 days per years, holidays and weekends included, between 8:30 - 9:30 a.m.
2. If the call is not answered by 2-3 attempts of letting ring at least 12 times, we call a client designated contact to check on the person.
3. If the designated person is not available, we send the police.
4. A client may request we not call, on any given day, or for a period of time by notifying one of us, or leaving a message on our recorder.

5. As a TeleCare group we provide no other services, except a single phone call daily.

However, we tell our volunteers, they may provide any service, such as grocery shopping, rides, etc. personally as their conscience dictates, but be sure to emphasize it is a personal act. [This may seem uncaring, but it is necessary as we have no insurance, are not incorporated, and currently use city property as our calling location.]

TeleCare prefers to contact persons everyday, which is for their own safety, but we accommodate a client if they prefer not to be called weekends, Sundays or only 3/days per week, etc.

I, personally, have met some very interesting persons through this service. Older people love to regale stories, much like we bloggers. Some tell me jokes. Yes, because of their age, some stories are repetitious, but so are mine. I probably chat more than some volunteers, but this is entirely up to each volunteer. Average age of clients at sign-up is approximately 80.

We would love to expand into surrounding towns, but we are limited by our telephone service. Everything outside our city limits is long distance. Our budget could not stand one of my 15 minute chats at long distance rates!

A cell service would allow expansion of the area served, but the cost/minute would eat up our small budget.

We encourage clients to also protect themselves with the personal devices that send a signal to rescue services. We've had three clients who used us and wore these devices, too.

You cannot have too many checkpoints when living alone.

And yes, we have initiated rescue calls on behalf of clients who have fallen (some with broken bones), diabetic coma, and heart attack. The most common event is fallen and cannot get up. That event is also the most common call for rescue units according to our scanner, and fire and rescue reports. Next most common event is probably breathing difficulties.

An even better contact might be a knock on a door!

A simple, single phone call...Have you made one today? Why not make a call today and brighten the life of a lonely person?

Postscript: Our group accepts any one, regardless of age, who is apprehensive about living alone. The elderly are the most likely to use the service. We have had two clients in their 50s one of which is the person mentioned in 1st paragraph, and has died.


Arkansas Patti said...

That is a very wonderful service you ladies provide. How incredibly thoughtful and definately a need. I am so impressed that you take the time to actually talk with your clients. I am sure you just make their day and I know it enriches yours.
My next post, I plan to link this post. Thanks so much.

NitWit1 said...

Thanks, AR Patti. I am adding a postscript that the service really has no age limits. Anyone living alone is welcome. We've had two in their 50s. And we take caregivers (usually spouses) living with someone unable to answer the phone. I often thought my Dad would die before Mother as he wore himself out taking care of her.

I am adding a postscript to it shortly, and thanks for linking. We really would help any group who wished to do a similar thing.

Chaplain Grace Michelle said...

What a Blessing your calls must be to so many people.
Peace and Blessings

Lorna said...

This is such an inspiring example of selflessness and community reachout.
I think I'll have to see if I can take part in the service that is organized here. Thanks for this.

Liz said...

What a brilliant service! (I wonder if we could do something similar from church. I'll have to think about it and mention it to others.)

Well done on being an initiator and on the success of the scheme.

Pat - Arkansas said...

We can do more than pray for "our families, friends, and neighbors, and for those who are alone" (Prayers of the People, Form VI, Episcopal Book of Common Prayer). The service you and the other volunteers provide is a GOOD thing.