Daily check-in program for seniors in Wauwatosa changes management

Published on: 7/23/2013

Five days out of the week seven seniors in Wauwatosa get a call. The call comes in the morning from someone checking in on them, making sure they're happy and healthy.

The callers aren't loved ones or family members. They're volunteers or dispatchers from Project Reassurance, a joint effort involving the Wauwatosa Police Department, Fire Department and Senior Commission. Their mission is to check on the health and well-being of Wauwatosa residents aged 60 and over.

That project, however, is going to go through changes starting Aug. 6. The program will no longer be run by local volunteers and dispatchers, but through Milwaukee-based Interfaith Older Adult Programs.

Interfaith is offering their services to the city for free.

The Interfaith group will remove the burden of calling that police and fire dispatchers have taken, will be open every day of the week and their volunteers will be able to connect those in the program to other Interfaith services. Such other programs could include helping clients go grocery shopping, visit doctors or even get jobs. Interfaith is also connected with the Milwaukee County Department of Aging, to which they can also connect seniors.

The change comes in the wake of dwindling volunteers and those enrolled in Project Reassurance, which began in the early 90s. The Senior Commission wanted to revitalize the program and one member suggested to chairperson Judi Parmeter they use Interfaith, which had been used by the North Shore Fire Department. They agreed and the project will begin enrolling clients at Tosa's Night Out on Aug. 6.

Seniors helping seniors

Interfaith's project is composed entirely of senior volunteers. They are part of the group's retired and senior volunteer program, or RSVP, the largest volunteer program for people ages 55 and older.

The program, according to RSVP director Samantha Garrett, allows home or wheelchair-bound seniors to connect with other people. The volunteers can make calls from their home.

Each volunteer is assigned one-to-three clients and their duty, Garrett said, is to develop a trusting relationship with their clients.

'You need to establish a type of rapport with a person so you can know if they're suffering from something or if they're not in a good place,' she said. 'The best thing for them to have is empathy.'

Beyond the calls

If someone doesn't answer a reassurance call, the police or fire department are notified. The police and fire department will then go to the person's house and physically check in on them.

At Tosa's Night Out, the police and fire departments will be showing off lockboxes. A lockbox is a box with the homeowner's keys in it and can only be accessed by the police and fire departments.

The reason the departments will be showing the boxes, Wauwatosa police lieutenant Chris Fox said, is to stop the police from damaging a home unnecessarily due to an unanswered reassurance call.

'You hate to boot a door and find out someone is sleeping on their couch,' he said.

The senior commission is also trying to raise funds for the boxes and, Parmeter said, hopes to be able to cover half the cost of each lockbox purchased in Wauwatosa. All businesses in Wauwatosa are required to have lockboxes.

Coming up

WHAT:Sign up for telephone reassurance

WHEN: 4 p.m. August 6

WHERE: Hart Park

COST: Free