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Silver Alerts increase, one group trying to help
Funding just one issue for Project Lifesaver

Prescott Valley Police Department Community Service Officer Jerry Ferguson demonstrates the Project Lifesaver locating device at the meeting on Thursday, Jan. 26.
Photo by Jason Wheeler.

Prescott Valley Police Department Community Service Officer Jerry Ferguson demonstrates the Project Lifesaver locating device at the meeting on Thursday, Jan. 26.

There was a 31 percent increase of Silver Alerts put out by the Public Information Office of Arizona between 2015 and 2016, said Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation Director of Development Tamara Gilbertson, stating that 82 percent of families dealing with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia live at home.

“They might not have the money for a facility, they may be in denial of what is going on and thinking that they can handle this,” Gilbertson said, noting there are also those living in care facilities that wander away as well. “It isn’t without ramifications across the board. The facility is fined up to six digits for something like that, which hurts us when you have only one or two in each city that are caring for this population to that level of care.”

Gilbertson’s comments came during a meeting at the Prescott Valley Police Department on Thursday, Jan. 26 between first responder leaders in the Quad-City Area as well as several private foundations and community leaders interested in funding and exposing Project Lifesaver, a program of proactive involvement to bring home loved ones dealing with Alzheimer’s and other related disorders that have wandered off.

The immediate goal was to get all of the agencies in Yavapai County at least familiar with the project and to help them catch the vision of where to fund the program at no cost to the individual agencies, said PVPD Community Service Officer Jerry Ferguson.

Currently, the costs being spent for dementia care are phenomenal with $1 out of every $4 in Medicare right now being spent on it and it’s soon to be $1 out of every $3. Further, one out of every three people that enter into a skilled nursing facility have some form of cognitive impairment, he said.

The most concerning aspect to a program like Project Lifesaver is the training that’s going to be offered to the responders, he said.

The chief concern raised at the meeting was financial support, Ferguson said, adding PVPD was doing whatever they can to raise money for the program as to not impact families in need.

“Most of them are old, have income that’s pretty well frozen, they don’t have dollars to put into it,” he said. “I know our budgets are very tight in all of our agencies, so we’re looking for funding beyond that to try to provide the program.”

The cost for Project Lifesaver is lower than the national average of how much a nine hour search costs when searching for a person who has wandered off, Ferguson said. The national average for a nine hour search at $1,500 per hour is $13,500 while the basic cost to start Project Lifesaver is less than $5,000, he said, commenting PVPD’s initial purchase was four battery packs and straps plus locating devices.

A year’s supply of batteries and straps is $300 per unit and the minimum purchase is four, but the hope is to get funding for as much as possible because no agency knows how much need they’re going to have at a time, Ferguson said.

Currently, the only two agencies in Arizona to actively be using Project Lifesaver are PVPD and another agency in Tucson, he said, commenting it also has GPS and remote operated drones when it comes to searches in rural areas.

As a whole for the agencies, taking on Project Lifesaver would be closer to $250,000 to $500,000, Gilbertson said.

“You’re going to need staff, the tools to train, the press to get it out to the community,” she said. “This is not a small project.”

Area Lions Clubs are instrumental in the Alzheimer’s Walk, for which the Prescott Noon Lions Club contributed about $2,600, said Club President Chuck Matthews. Though it’s a drop in the bucket, there are a lot of other community philanthropic people who also deal with the walk and while Matthews didn’t know the total take, there are hundreds of people walking along with outside contributions, he said. However, the money being talked about at the meeting is congressional type money, he said.

The Prescott Noon Lions Club would be willing to have some kind of fundraiser for helping fund Project Lifesaver, but there would have to be guidelines, Matthews said.

“We would want to involve the other Lions Clubs in town to make a conjoined effort and I will communicate with our district governor and get him interested in it. We are a club of 107 individuals,” he said, bringing up how other area Lions clubs are smaller. “So they’re take on something like this would be a lot smaller. There’s a tremendous amount of talent and abilities in the clubs and when we get behind something, we can raise money. We really can.”

Ferguson said his current frustration with the program is that PVPD is the only agency in Yavapai County that has it and it needs to be bigger, but he can’t publicize it properly because he doesn’t have enough equipment.

“It’s almost like dangling a carrot to the community because I already have a dozen people that are wanting a bracelet and I have two more that aren’t assigned to somebody,” he said.

Gilbertson said she would look into federal support for the program.

Another meeting is planned in about five weeks or so to discuss an overview of potential partners, funders and gather more information on what these tools look like, she said.

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