By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — When a loved one with a medical condition wanders away from home in the middle of the night, time becomes a family’s worst enemy. That especially rings true during the bitter cold months of winter where the elements can turn a scary situation into a deadly situation. Much too often, those leaving home aren’t wearing warm clothes, leaving them even vulnerable.
Since 1997, the Newburyport Police Department, in tandem with the city’s Council on Aging, has been registering the elderly and younger loved ones with medical conditions in its H.E.L.P.S program, a database kept by the police department that shaves off precious time locating them.
Newburyport Council on Aging Director Roseann Robillard said the program works and strongly recommended it.
“They’re at risk and we need to make sure they are returned safely home as soon as possible,” Robillard said, referring to the elderly.
Recently, Robillard received a phone call from a distraught resident in the Quail Run section of the city who said her husband would wake up in the middle of the night and think it was time for him to leave for work. When told of this very distressing situation, Robillard visited the couple in their private residence and snapped a Polaroid photo of her husband. She then took the photo, along with some basic information (next of kin and age), to the police station where he was entered into the H.E.L.P.S program.
“The H.E.L.P.S program is very low tech — it’s no tech,” Robillard said.
City Marshal Thomas Howard said several hundred residents have been enrolled in the database since 1997 and that the program has assisted in the safe return of countless loved ones. And with winter again in full bore, where the survival rates diminish greatly, it made sense to re-advertise the program.
“Now is the time to update the emergency contact information at the police station on a family member or to have them added to your database if there is any possible likelihood they may wander off or have an illness that prevents them from communicating,” Howard said.
Howard said all information remains confidential and enrolling in the program takes minutes. All that is needed is a recent photo with general information about the person’s health, habits and contacts. For those unable to visit the police station, an officer can be dispatched to the person’s home where the information will be collected.
“This program has and continues to help so many families be reunited safely and quickly with family members. Don’t wait until a family member goes missing before you resister,” Howard said.
For more information on the H.E.L.P.S program, call the Newburyport police station at 978-462-4411 or to register, visit the station located at 4 Green St., Newburyport.