Phone program reaching out to elderly in Carroll needs funding

August 12, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Seniors Keep in Touch, a program that provides safety checks and reassurance to hundreds of homebound elderly Carroll County residents, is scrambling for money to continue its daily phone project.

The organization, which calls 75 elderly people every morning, relies on grants and contributions to amass more than $30,000 in cash, most of which is for part-time salaries. Carroll's Bureau of Aging, which gives the program office space and phones at Westminster Senior Center, cannot include Seniors Keep in Touch in its annual budget until fiscal 2005.

The community has been supportive, but the program requires much fund raising and grant writing to continue. The calls have saved lives, provided meals, housing and comfort to those who have few remaining friends and family.

"Our challenge is how to keep this going until it becomes part of the county budget. We are totally committed to continuing our search for funds," said Patricia A. Supik, executive director of the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County, which manages the program.

Participants can attest to the value of a daily phone call that for many is a lifeline. About 9 every morning, the phone rings at George Duke's home in Woodbine. The 81-year-old retired farmer knows Patricia M. Owen will be on the line, asking how he is, if he has taken his medications and if he has something to eat.

Owen, project coordinator for Seniors Keep in Touch, engages those she calls "my seniors" in friendly conversation and tries to assess their well-being.

"They say they can tell if I am getting weaker by my voice. They really have become my friends and I depend on them," Duke said.

The program, established in 1997 with a United Way grant, grew from a survey of seniors who said they wanted to live independently and safely in their homes. The service is available to those ages 60 and older, a population that is more than 22,000 in Carroll and projected to be more than double that by 2020.

Many counties have senior reassurance programs, but Carroll's daily contact schedule is unique, Supik said. Baltimore County has 120 volunteers who provide double the number of seniors with weekly calls and visits. Howard County is trying to restart a program that fell by the wayside for lack of volunteers.

"I hope we can bring it back," said Pam Bilal, Howard County senior information and assistance coordinator. "There certainly is a need."

Duke, who had broken his hip, said "The SKIT program saved my life."

Owen poses standard questions and knows each senior well enough to ask about their children, grandchildren and pets.

"I ask if they are taking their meds, if they have had a good night's sleep, if there is food in the fridge," Owen said.

Doris Bingham, 91, and nearly blind, rarely leaves her Union Bridge home. Her conversations with Owen frequently last longer than the usual three minutes.

Bingham mentioned a rotting front porch that she feared might curtail her Meals on Wheels deliveries. Owen contacted a group of teen-age volunteers who quickly repaired the porch and added a ramp and a roof.

"Patty knows how to connect seniors with the services they need," Supik said.

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