MedicAlert’s Safe & Found Program is a ‘healthier approach’ to finding missing vulnerable persons
In Saugeen Shores, locating a missing individual and bringing them back to safety is the number one priority
One of the most rewarding parts of police work for Sgt. Andy Evans is reuniting a missing person with their loved ones.
As the media relations officer for Saugeen Shores Police Service, Sgt. Evans and his fellow officers help ensure the safety of 15,000 people in Bruce County, Ont. The area, an amalgamation of South Hampton, Port Elgin and the former Saugeen Township, is undergoing rapid growth thanks to its alluring location on the sunny shores of Lake Huron.
It’s also a great place to retire, and Saugeen Shores has an established older population serviced by a retirement communities and nursing homes. Whenever a member of this close-knit community becomes disoriented and wanders off – as six in 10 people living with dementia will do at least once – Sgt. Evans says first responders are quick to bring them home.
“I’m also a frontline supervisor and this is part of my daily duties,” he says. “When someone wanders, it’s my job to help co-ordinate the search effort at a command post and disburse officers accordingly. It becomes our number one priority to find that person and bring them back to safety.”
These efforts can involve a wide range of activities, from cellphone tracking to enlisting the fire department’s assistance to bringing in their own canine unit. The cost of the search always takes a backseat to the health of a missing person.
“If we have to call in our canine officer, that could be an expense, but it’s not an expense that’s worrisome to us,” Sgt. Evans says. “If there is a fire response or we need fire volunteers – who actually get paid – there’s a cost to that, but that’s why they’re there. These are acceptable expenses that we’re willing to undertake to bring somebody to safety.”
Finding the way home
Bringing these individuals home has been made easier and more effective by the police service’s partnership with MedicAlert, as part of the Safe & Found Program. The relationship gives Saugeen Shores officers instant access to MedicAlert’s Subscriber Health Information Database (SHID), which contains the comprehensive health information of more than one million Canadians, 50,000 of whom are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. SHID includes previous wandering history, triggers, physical characteristics, de-escalations and more – all of which can be accessed by first responders who are conducting a search.
“If we do find a wandering person or somebody in medical distress that has a MedicAlert bracelet on, that information can be relayed to our dispatchers,” Sgt. Evans explains. “Dispatch can then access the person’s MedicAlert information, which first tells us who they are, then leads us to their next of kin, contact information, and even information on specific anxieties and how to approach this person. I think going forward for our police service, it’s a much healthier approach to bringing people back to safety.”
New research from MedicAlert and scientists at the University of Waterloo indicates that 91 percent of subscribers who experienced a wandering incident were returned home safely. That’s good news not just for the person with dementia and their families, but also for the dedicated officers involved in the search. “These incidents are one of many things that take an emotional toll on police officers and other first responders,” Sgt. Evans says. “They have a cumulative effect.”
Knowledge is power
With close to a million Canadians expected to be living with dementia by 2030, the number of people at risk of wandering will only increase. For families of people living with dementia, Sgt. Evans recommends subscribing their loved one to MedicAlert’s Safe & Found Program. “The more information we’re empowered with – especially in the case of wandering persons – the higher the likelihood of a quick and fruitful outcome.”
There are few things first responders take greater satisfaction in than returning a lost individual to a relieved family. “Every officer is touched by finding a missing person; any happy ending is a great feeling,” he says.
“There’s a perception that most of our job is chasing down criminals and bringing them to justice, and that is one of our core responsibilities. But at the end of the day, the protection of the public, which often falls outside the scope of criminality, is something we take great pride in doing well.”