Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center sets up telephone reassurance program

From left to right: Kate Quebe, Priscilla Baker, Gordy Johnson, Louise Batchelor, Phil Dawson, Jim Hansen, and Chuck Durant begin work on a phone reassurance program for members of the Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center. Photo by Joan Cronk

Kate Quebe, Director of Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center, worries about all the seniors who frequent the Center on a regular basis.

Not long ago, a member of their group failed to show up when expected and further checking found that he was in need of immediate medical assistance.
This got Quebe thinking about setting up some sort of a program where people who live alone could check on each other on a regular basis to be sure they are either up and moving in the morning, or at home safe at night.  Quebe had several local options to emulate.

The University Place Police Department has a system that operates Monday through Friday and Dorothy Gannon, volunteer coordinator for the telephone reassurance program, said their program works pretty well.

Gannon said that people who participate in the program fill out a form with Pierce County Aging and Long Term Care and are evaluated for any other needs they may have before being given a slot in the telephone reassurance program.

Gannon likes the program that is run through Pierce County Aging and Long Term Care and explained, “Because clients are interviewed by a social worker they often find they need more help than just a phone call, and that agency has those resources available to them.”

However, the University Place model operates on a five-day a week schedule. Quebe knew she wanted something in place that worked on a seven-day basis.

A commercial option for folks living alone is the Lifeline program.  Mercy’s Lifeline system operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with a one-time installation fee of $80 and a monthly fee of $42.

As great as this program sounds, the cost can be a factor for folks living on a fixed income.

Quebe thought that her group at Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center could set up their own system which would have many of the options of the other programs but have no cost, work on a daily basis all year round and would appeal to low income seniors.

“We are thinking of doing a very limited phone tree where people in the program would be assigned in groups of three and call each other at a specified time,” said Quebe.

Each group, said Quebe, would decide for themselves which time of day for making the calls would work best.

With these thoughts in mind, Quebe set up an exploratory meeting at the Center.

A small group showed up to discuss how to set up the phone system and each person brought some great ideas to the table.

Priscilla Baker, who is 87 years old, said she lives alone and will be fine as long as “my health doesn’t fail.”

Jim Hansen said he also lived alone and wanted to discuss resources and options.  “I want to stay independent,” he added.

Chuck Dawson said he lived alone and was interested in preventative measures and putting things in place to prevent future obstacles. “If I need help,” he said, “I need it now.”

Louise Batchelor suggested getting a locksmith on board to volunteer some services in case the police had to be called to do a safety check.

Everyone present was willing to volunteer and felt the system they were hoping to set up should operate on a seven-day a week schedule. All they needed was a plan, phones and a willingness to participate.

When Quebe brought up the idea of the three-person phone tree, everyone agreed that smaller groups of volunteers would work best.

A steering committee was formed and the next meeting scheduled.

It won’t be long before the Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center has their own telephone reassurance program in place and will begin checking on each other on a daily basis to be sure everyone stays safe.

“This program sounds simplified,” said Dawson.  “It would work.”