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January 9, 2013

City's 'H.E.L.P.S' program available to elderly

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.

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