Mexico Police Chief Roy Hodsdon started his department’s Senior Watch program three years ago and makes the calls himself every day. “I think I’ve gotten more from it than I’ve given,” he said. “Overall, it’s just been the best.” 

More Maine towns start each day calling seniors and the housebound to ensure they’re safe.

Even when he was out of town for a family reunion this weekend, Mexico Police Chief Roy Hodsdon called four seniors for their daily check-in.

Feeling OK? Any plans?

He calls them on weekdays and weekends. On vacations. When his mom died, in March, he called them and they gently chided him — it’s OK to think of yourself and take a morning off.

Hodsdon calls it the best part of his police day. The feeling is mutual.

“It’s nice to have somebody call me and let me know I’m all right,” said Tom, 75, chuckling. “I’ve got two daughters, but they’ve got their lives and they do their thing. It turned out to be quite a good friendship, he’s been awful good to me. We’re lucky to have him in Mexico.” 

Hodsdon started Senior Watch three years ago, when he became chief. Around the state, it’s known by different names, sometimes run by town officials, sometimes by police, fire or volunteers, but with the same aim:

Letting seniors and people who find themselves housebound know someone’s listening, that they have a resource. And if the worst happens — a fall, a heart attack — help will arrive within the day.

In Rangeley, where volunteers call five people daily, Mary Richards wrings her hands thinking about all the seniors she wishes were being contacted but never signed up for the service.

“One of them ended up falling in her garden and laying there for 12 hours,” said Richards, coordinator of Rangeley’s Thriving in Place grant at SeniorsPlus. “Another woman who fell out of bed … was wedged between her bed and her dresser for a day and a half. Had she been on our list, we would have caught her right away and she might not have lost her life as a result of that experience. People fall, and if you don’t have somebody checking on you on a regular basis, it’s just so critically important.”

Toni Dyer, Hancock town clerk, started her program after reading about a southern Maine woman discovered in her house after she’d been dead two-and-a-half years.

That shouldn’t happen to anybody, she said.

Yet even with all the good intentions, it can be a hard-sell in independence-minded Maine.

“We have three people enrolled — there are 4,000 people in this town,” said Lt. Jamie Pelletier in Madawaska, which started its program in January.

“You know what we’re being told by family members of the elderly people?” Pelletier said. “They tell us, ‘My mom or my dad, they’re too proud to have somebody call and check up on them.’ We hear that over and over and over again. I even asked my mom. My mom’s 78, lives in an elderly complex. ‘No! I don’t want anyone checking up on me! I’m good.'”

IT’S ‘KIND OF MAGICAL’

There’s no central list of the towns or communities with Good Morning programs. They appear to be more popular in rural areas. Orono’s decade-old program has about 20 people. The year-old program out of the Age-Friendly Community Initiative covering Bethel, Gilead, Newry, Greenwood and Woodstock doesn’t have any takers yet. Fryeburg is starting one this fall, according to Police Chief Joshua Potvin.

“We recognize the program is successful in other communities and (we) want to take part if it benefits our residents,” he said this week via email.

Some programs have people call in; in others, people receive regular calls at a set time. A missed call triggers a visit from a neighbor or a wellness check from police.

When they sign up, participants disclose medications, next of kin and details vital in an emergency.

Dyer waited to officially start Good Morning Hancock until a bill passed the Legislature this spring that shields that personal information from Freedom of Access requests.

She’s installed a dedicated phone line and combed the voter rolls, figuring 40 to 50 people over age 70 living alone could benefit.

“My town, in particular, is a very old town,” said Dyer. “I want them to still live at home and be as independent as they want to be, but I want them to know that there is someone they can call if they have an issue that doesn’t involve 911 or anything like that.”

Kay Rector in Bethel, who headed the task force that created the program within AFCI, also hopes it helps with loneliness. One theory why no one’s signed up yet:

“A person who wants a call every day has a responsibility to let their caller know if they’re not going to be available, otherwise it’s an extra emergency,” she said. “I think there are people who would love to have a friendly connection every day, but they’re not willing to take the responsibility of calling in if they decide to go out to coffee with a friend.”

In Rangeley, where the program is known as Neighbors Calling Neighbors, volunteers have to pass a background check and get trained to listen for red flags like depression or being pulled into a scam.

It’s led to sweet relationships between caller and callee with the volunteer taking the senior shopping or to medical appointments or fixing little things around the house.

“This program is kind of magical — when people start they just get so attached to each other,” said Marcia Baker, who coordinates it out of Rangeley Health and Wellness. “We have summertime people, up in their 90s, they come here from New Jersey or New York City and they’re all alone.” For them, there’s summer-only callers.

She’s also seen benefits for the volunteer: After matching seniors with callers who have health issues or disabilities, “all of a sudden they’re much happier,” Baker said. “They’re less focused on their maladies because they know they’re making a difference in the world.”

‘THEY’RE WAITING’

Day shift officers take turns calling for Project Good Morning in Orono. Capt. Daniel Merrill wasn’t aware of any close calls — someone who didn’t answer only to have police find them on the floor or unresponsive — but said it’s been beneficial in other ways.

Adult children living away like knowing Mom and Dad have another set of eyes on them. Seniors get more comfortable with police.

“If we have to go down for a medical complaint and we know that they’re going to somebody that’s on the program, sometimes our guys will go down with the medics and get the face time with that person, again make more of that personal connection,” Merrill said. “Sometimes we have insight that we can give the paramedics on medications … because we have all that back at the PD.”

Chief Roy Hodsdon started Senior Watch after a graduate of Mexico’s Police Explorers’ program, Camron Barrieau, landed at the Orono Police Department and reached out to recommend it.

From the start, Hodsdon’s made the calls himself between 7:50 and 8:10 a.m., from his desk or from the road.

“It’s been one of the highlights of my career getting that started here,” Hodsdon said. “A lot of times, this is the only communication with the outside world, especially in the wintertime. They’re from that era when they took care of themselves and they didn’t have a lot of money when they were young, they’re self-sufficient and they don’t want to be put in nursing homes or they don’t want to be bothered by anyone.”

For many seniors, who often find themselves on a limited income, their lone interaction with police is as a hefty (police department) budget item at town meeting. Senior Watch has helped with that, too.

“You can’t hide behind four walls,” he said. “They want to know what (we’re) doing here.”

Police have steered people toward the right resources when they suspected elder abuse, a scam or a family member taking advantage of them.

Hodsdon started with nine, including Tom.

Tom said he initially got involved for safety reasons; he’s fallen a few times. He’d recommend it to any friends.

“(Hodsdon’s) a terrific person, very dedicated,” Tom said.

Back in March, Hodsdon said, “I had called that morning to let them know that my mom had passed and I might not be able to call for a little bit. They were like, ‘If you call us, we’re going to be mad at you, because you need to be with your family, but we’re worried about you.’

“I think I’ve gotten more from it than I’ve given,” he said. “Overall, it’s just been the best. They’re waiting by the phone for you.”

[email protected]

Mexico Police Chief Roy Hodsdon started his department’s Senior Watch program three years ago and makes the calls himself every day.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: