According to the US Census Bureau, over 15% of the nation's total population exceeds 65 years of age. Here in Rutherford County, that number is closer to 21%. In a report USCB published in 2012, it was determined that over 35% of individuals that live alone in the US were 65 and older. That number is expected to increase significantly until 2030 with the 'baby boomers' generation. Health issues like Alzheimer's, Dementia, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Cancer are commonly associated with aging and will be putting our seniors at higher risk, making those living alone more and more vulnerable as the years go by.
For close to three decades, since 1990, Rutherford County has been providing the "Are You Okay?" program for our elderly and vulnerable citizens who are living alone.
"The program is a telephone and computer based reassurance program, designed to 'call' our Rutherford County Seniors or any Rutherford County citizen that is living alone (and shows a need for this program) and help them and their family to have peace of mind. It provides the participants with the knowledge that someone will be checking on them daily." said Lieutenant Leon Godlock, Lieutenant of Support Services, who oversees the program.
When asked who qualifies for the program, Lt. Godlock responded, "You must be a citizen of Rutherford County, have a need or desire to be included in the program, have a working land line or cell phone to receive calls, and be able to answer the phone at a pre-determined time."
As outlined on their website, www.rutherfordcountync.gov/sheriffsoffice/areuok, this is how it the program works: The participant MUST be near their phone at the time they are to be called. After hearing the Sheriff's brief message, the participant must answer "Yes" or "Press 1" to indicate if they are OK. If the participant needs help at the time of the scheduled telephone call, they are instructed "DO NOT answer the telephone." An unanswered call alerts an officer to investigate and assist the participant. If the participant knows they're not going to be home at the time of the scheduled call, they are asked to contact the Support Division of the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office Monday - Friday, 9am-5pm, at 828-287-6395.
Lt. Godlock clarifies that there is typically a family member or trusted neighbor assigned as a contact person who is notified if the participant does not answer the scheduled call. This individual can help make an assessment as to whether or not there is an emergency. If there is an emergency, Are You Okay will notify their family and/or friends, an officer will respond to the participant's residence, and notification of the appropriate emergency personnel will be made. If a participant doesn't answer their phone call and a contact person cannot be reached, an officer in the jurisdiction of the participant will be dispatched to check on the participant.
If you, or someone you know, would like to take advantage of this potentially life-saving and free program, Lt. Godlock encourages you to call him at 828-287-6395. "I have a coordinator who meets with the perspective participant and signs them up for the Are You Okay? program. He also monitors the phone system several hours a day."