The county's frail homebound who live alone can breathe a little easier thanks to Operation Lifeline, the Department of Aging's Telephone Reassurance Program.
Volunteers call at a predetermined time each morning. If the senior citizen is not reached, relatives, neighbors, friends or attending physicians are contacted. If none of these contacts are successful, the local police are asked to enter the client's home and check on his or her condition. Clients must sign a waiver giving permission for the police to enter.
The program is operated under the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), but is not staffed solely by seniors.
Twenty-five volunteers make calls to about 200 clients between 8 and 10 a.m. About 50 clients call in themselves.
The program was begun in 1972 by the county police department. In 1976, it came under the auspices of the Department of Aging and the RSVP, where it has remained since.
No one is turned away, although clients sometimes are put onto a waiting list for about a week until investigators can visit and take the application information.
Clients may refer themselves to the program or be referred by family, social workers, clergy or physicians. The service is free.
Several incidents illustrate Lifeline's value, said Yvonne Hicks, director of the RSVP program.
"There was one instance where we couldn't reach a man. His daughter lived in Falls Church, Va., and couldn't be reached. We called a neighbor, who hadn't seen or heard from the man, so we sent the police over. The man had fallen in his bathtub the night before and was bleeding. Paramedics arrived, and he's OK now," she said. "We've had a couple of risky cases, but we've never lost anybody."
She said some people confuse this program with the LifeLine Program at North Arundel Hospital, in which the hospital stores medical information in a vial that people can keep in their refrigerators. Police and emergency personnel know to look there for the information.
"We certainly don't discourage them from participating in that program, too, but we're not the same. For some lonely seniors, we're about the only regular human contact they have. We call everyday to check how they're doing. The seniors really enjoy this service."
The Telephone Reassurance volunteers, as well as volunteers at the office on aging's thrift shop, were honored for their dedication by the department and County Executive Robert R. Neall Dec. 18 at Michael's in Glen Burnie.
"I call these my most dedicated group. It takes something to get out of bed and be over here by 7:30 a.m. every morning," Hicks said. "Some of these folks started with this program when it was under the police department. That's dedicated."
The program is always looking for volunteers. If you're interested in helping, call the Department of Aging at 222-6825.