Southampton police step up with check-in service for vulnerable residents

  • Lt. Mark Groeber, left, and Chief Ian Illingsworth speak about the new Reassurance Program at the Southampton Police Department. Groeber is the department’s elder affairs officer. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Chief Ian Illingsworth speaks about the new Reassurance Program at the Southampton Police Department on Wednesday. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Dispatcher Cheryl Lamagdeleine will be fielding some of the calls for the new Reassurance Program at the Southampton Police Department. Under the program, participants will call in daily, and if they don’t, officers will follow up. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Lt. Mark Groeber stands for a photo outside of the the Southampton Police Department on Wednesday. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Chief Ian Illingsworth, left, and Lt. Mark Groeber stand for a photo outside of the the Southampton Police Department on Wednesday. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Chief Ian Illingsworth stands for a photo outside of the the Southampton Police Department on Wednesday. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE—

Staff Writer
Published: 8/30/2022 9:18:08 PM
Modified: 8/30/2022 9:14:28 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — A new check-in service offered by the Southampton Police Department is making daily connections with people at increased risk for emergencies in their homes. 

The department is offering the free service, the Resident Reassurance Program, in conjunction with the Southampton Council on Aging and the Southampton Board of Health.

The program was developed after a small group of advocates met over the winter expressing and discussing concerns over the most vulnerable members of the senior population in Southampton, said Janet Cain, chairperson of the Council on Aging Board. The group included Cain, Police Chief Ian Illingsworth, Lt. Mark Groeber, Select Board member and COA liaison Maureen “Reeny” Groden, and Select Board member Francine Tishman.

“We discussed the need to establish a method of communicating with seniors in need and finding a way to recognize when they need assistance. From this initial meeting, the Resident Reassurance was created,” Cain said. 

The voluntary service is an extension of two programs already offered by the Police Department; the Safe Entry lockbox program and Winter Wellbeing Checks, according to Illingsworth. 

The Safe Entry program allows first responders to gain access to a resident’s home through a spare key to the residence protected by a lockbox — a piece of hardware, mounted to the exterior of the home — rather than having to break down a door or shatter a window. 

In the event that there is an emergency and an occupant is incapacitated, first responders will contact Southampton’s 911 dispatch and request a code to unlock the box. As part of the program’s design, homeowners are not privy to the code, so that a key will remain in the box and only be accessed in an emergency by Southampton police officers. 

Currently, there are 18 people enrolled in Southampton’s lockbox initiative. 

For the Winter Wellbeing Checks, residents who have signed up for the program will be checked on following snowstorms, Illingsworth said. 

“It’s about getting to people when they need help as soon as possible,” he said.

How it works

Once enrolled in the Resident Reassurance Program, members are instructed to call the Police Department on a daily basis between 7 a.m. and noon and provide their name to a dispatcher. If a member has not called the department by noontime, a call is placed to their residence. If the dispatcher is unable to reach a resident by telephone, a police officer is sent to the member’s residence to ensure they are OK. 

“If the responding officer has reason to believe or suspect that the reassurance member is home and for some reason unable to answer the telephone or unable to come to the door, the police officer will make entry into the home,” said Groeber, who is also the department’s elder affairs officer. “In these situations, access to the residence is gained through the use of a lockbox.”

The impetus for the program came after police officers had responded to calls over this past winter that had a bleak outcome, Illingsworth said. 

On more than one occasion, an elderly person or a caretaker of an individual who had impaired cognitive abilities had sustained an injury or experienced a medical event and was unable to dial 911, he said. 

“We don’t want anyone to go too long before getting the help they need,” Groden said. “I hope people sign up for this program — it could save their life!”

Who is eligible?

The reassurance program is open to senior citizens, people with disabilities, people who live alone, people who care for a family member or other person in their household, or others who are at increased risk in their homes, Groeber said. 

“This guarantees daily contact with an elderly person or person at risk,” he said. “There is no age qualifier to apply.”

Groeber also noted that all the names of the people enrolled in the program are confidential. 

Meanwhile, the Polish National Credit Union has donated $500 toward the purchase of the lockboxes in support of this program, and the department has lockboxes available for those who wish to enroll. 

Those with questions about the program or who need assistance with the registration form, or who would like to request a lockbox can call the Police Department at 413-527-1120, the COA at 413-529-2105, or the Board of Health at 413-529-1003. 

Registration forms are available at the Southampton Police Department, 8 East St., or at the Southampton Senior Center, 210 College Highway. Forms are also available at townofsouthampton.org.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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