Seniors living alone stay safe with 'good morning' calls
CONWAY — Joke Russell wakes up each morning, takes her vitamins and makes a phone call to the Conway Police Department.
She is one of 56 older residents living alone who report into the police department each day as part of “Project Good Morning.”
It’s a 40-year tradition started by former police chief Allan MacLean to help seniors in this rural area stay at home and live independently — simply by making a phone call.
“All of a sudden you find yourself living alone and you don’t hear a voice in the home anymore and you pick up the phone and there is this cheery voice on the other end,” Russell said. “It sets a nice tone for the day for someone who lives alone.”
Police Dispatch Supervisor Joanne MacKenzie said the seniors sign up and agree to call in each day by 10 a.m. If they don’t receive a call from someone on their list, the department calls them. If no one picks up, an officer is sent to the house to check on them.
MacKenzie said the department currently has 56 seniors on the list, but has had as many as 80. She said the dispatchers get to know the seniors’ voices, their routines and lifestyles. Some will call at 3 a.m.; others will call at 10 a.m. The dispatchers know each of their birthdays.
Russell is 80 and has been reporting in to the police department every day for “13 or 14 years.” She calls it a “security blanket.” She knows if she can’t get to a phone, someone is coming to check on her. She said it’s also a relief to her two sons, who both live a couple of hours away.
“It’s wonderful for them and they know I am checking in every morning,” Russell said.
Seniors provide the department a list of emergency contacts, medications and pet instructions. In some cases, seniors have given the department a set of keys to their home.
MacKenzie said when someone does not call in, it’s usually just an oversight. There have been rare occasions of a person was found incapacitated or dead in their home.
She recounted a story about a woman who had children living in the South. She did not check in one morning and officers were sent to her home. MacKenzie said the woman had died, but looked peaceful, sitting in a chair with a book in her lap and a glass of bourbon on the table.
“If she wasn’t on this program, who knows how long she would have been there,” MacKenzie said. “Someone passing away and no one knows — it’s just so tragic.”
MacKenzie said the department tries to send one or two representatives to services for anyone in Project Good Morning that passes away. The department also delivers fruit baskets and cards at Christmas to each senior on the list. She said in some cases, it’s the first time the person who has been calling gets to meet the dispatcher they’ve been saying “good morning” to each day.
“We definitely make connections with them,” MacKenzie said. “They are usually the most positive calls we get all day.”
Project Good Morning is for seniors living alone in Conway, Bartlett and Jackson. For more information on the program, contact Conway Police Department at (603) 356-5715.
Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at email@example.com or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging.