Allegheny County emergency services officials are cautioning residents to keep an eye out for their elderly neighbors who live alone and might be in trouble if they lose power, heat and phone service, as some did during the weekend snowstorm that blanketed the region.
There are some 2,500 or so senior citizens served by the county's Area Agency on Aging who fall into the "high risk" category, said agency administrator Mildred Morrison. But county officials don't know exactly how many home-bound seniors are without power and other services at the moment.
In natural disasters like the storm that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on Friday and Saturday, the home-bound elderly are often the most vulnerable to the loss of power and phone service, which are essential for both home heating and calling emergency first-responders for help.
However, because not all home-bound seniors are registered with the Area Agency on Aging, Ms. Morrison said, emergency services providers need to depend on the vigilance of family, neighbors and other well-wishers to reach the elderly who might be in desperate circumstances.
"We're calling on the community to help to ensure that all seniors are kept safe during this particularly difficult weather. We are asking anyone who knows of an older person living alone, particularly someone who is frail, to please take the time to visit him or her," said Ms. Morrison.
"Go knock on the door, repeatedly. If you don't get a response and you know someone is in the house, then call a public safety official."
Ms. Morrison said the agency provides an array of services -- from adult day care to home health aides and delivered meals -- to some 7,500 seniors in the county. It has had about 120 social workers in the field since the storm hit.
"We have our people out there knocking on doors and on occasion, they have had to shovel walkways to get to the residents," she said.
Among the essential services they are providing are boxes of shelf-stable foods and stable temporary heaters.
"If the house feels cold, make sure the furnace is working. Be alert to dangerous methods of heating a room, such as open flames or ovens. Also, make sure there is food and water in the house. And please, make repeated visits to make sure everything is all right," Ms. Morrison said.
For more information about programs and services for older adults, contact the county's SeniorLine at 412-350-5460 or email@example.com or by visiting www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/olderadults.aspx.
Karamagi Rujumba: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1719. First Published February 9, 2010 5:00 AM