With the older demographic of the Regional District of Nanaimo, especially in the Parksville and Qualicum Beach areas, more seniors find themselves living alone.
For 24 years the Nanaimo Lifeline program has provided a link to emergency help for seniors and people with health risks.
“It gives people a means for calling for help if they experience some kind of trauma,” explained executive director Joan Ryan.
Their clients wear a push button 24 hours a day, seven days a week that links them to a call centre when they can’t get to a phone.
The Nanaimo program is owned by the Hospital Foundation and — with an office in Parksville — monitors 1,500 people between Deep Bay and Cassidy, who are over 65 years of age, or who have a specific health risk.
“Lifeline allows people to move around with confidence,” she said, explaining the button signals the base unit, through which they can talk by speaker phone to someone in their Nanaimo call centre.
The call centre employees are not medically trained, but screen the 90 per cent of the calls they get that are accidental and decide whether they need an ambulance, or maybe just a friend or family member.
When the button is pressed the client’s details show up on a screen to give a sense of what they might be dealing with, for example someone with a history of heart attacks versus a history of accidental triggers.
When the clients sign up they give the contact information for local friends or family who know the situation and are the first line of contact for emergencies.
Ryan said aside from regular test calls they get about 3,000 calls a month, of which about 90 per cent are accidents or false alarms. About nine per cent require some help, like a neighbour or family member to help them get up from a minor fall or help with something urgent, but not an emergency.
The one per cent of calls they get that require emergency services still represent around 30 potentially life saving calls a month.
Unless the client sounds good and says it was an accident, their policy is to send someone, either the personal contact or an ambulance.
If they don’t hear anyone — with an audible range of about 50-feet from the base — they send someone to check.
She said they get most of the accidental calls when people are cooking or dressing and that it’s not that easy to accidentally press the indented button.
She said it took a while at first but they have developed a good informal partnership with the ambulance service and know what to ask and how to work with them, saving the ambulance a lot of false alarms.
Ryan said she has built a lot of partnerships with health care workers and agencies like doctors, the VIU nursing program, senior services, Oceanside community partners team and Health Fair steering committee.
People require a doctor’s referral to join Lifeline but Ryan said they have a wide range of people from their 20s, up to several people over 100. Their oldest client lived at home until they were 107.
The service costs $50 to start and $37 a month for the monitoring.
They are always looking for volunteers, Ryan said, pointing out they have a lot of couples who do it together.
They are holding an open house in Parksville next Thursday, June 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in recognition of their 24th anniversary and they encourage anyone interested in the service, or volunteering to stop by #4 — 125 McCarter Street, across from The News.
There will be door prizes, refreshments, information and people to answer questions.
The Parksville office (250-951-9824) is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but people can call the Nanaimo office toll-free at 250-947-8213 throughout the week.
Check www.nanaimohospitalfoundation.com/Page.aspx?pid=447 for more information.