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Neighbors Helping Neighbors: What We All Can Do

Earlier this month, several Westporters grew worried about a neighbor.

In his 90s, he lived alone. Several people would cook, and leave bags of food at his door. Two bags had not been retrieved; his mail was still in the box, and the carrier was worried.

Recently, a neighbor had seen bruises on his face. But when anyone knocked, he’d yell from behind a chained door, “COVID! COVID! Go away!”

Yhe Westport Police, EMS and Department of Human Services were called. Sadly, he had died.

A neighbor emailed me: “My heart breaks for the old man, by himself, perhaps ill and/or with failing memory, and so terrified of COVID he refused contact with concerned neighbors, who he knew also brought him food.”

Could they have done more? she wondered.

I asked Human Services director Elaine Daignault. She says:

“Neighbors are often the first line of support for individuals who live alone. That’s why it is so vital for Westporters to get to know their neighbors. Human Services frequently receives calls from concerned neighbors of elderly and disabled residents.

Elaine Daignault, director of Westport’s Department of Human Services

“Every scenario is different. A DHS social worker is always available to listen to concerns, and work collaboratively with neighbors and emergency responders to determine the best way to support the individual in question.

The strong partnership between first responders and Human Services ensures a collective approach to supporting seniors’ health and well-being in various situations.

“If the individual is in imminent danger, residents are encouraged to call 911. If DHS receives the call, we contact the police immediately for a welfare check.

“If warranted, EMS will transport the individual to the hospital for medical emergencies. In this scenario, Police, Fire and EMS will refer the household to Human Services for follow-up, as needed. We also work with hospital social workers to help with discharge planning.

“Concurrently, a call to Human Services initiates a trained social worker’s response to directly contact the individual to assess their needs and create a plan to help.

“Some people are more open to discuss their needs than others. Some people choose to decline assistance altogether. If they are not amenable to sharing, we will identify a family member or friend to offer assistance where needed.

“If we cannot make contact or progress, Human Services works collaboratively with first responders and the Westport Weston Health District to schedule an in-home safety assessment.

“If we cannot find a responsible family member to assist, or the individual is resistant, the team may refer the case to CT Protective Services for the Elderly.  The state then becomes the lead agency, and town partners serve as local resources to ensure that the resident receives appropriate supports.

“Here are some ways for neighborhoods to look after the elderly in their communities:

“It sounds like the neighbors did the right thing by calling the Police Department and Human Services. Together, we will follow up on the calls and do our best to address concerns directly.

“Note that we cannot share personal information or circumstances without the individual’s expressed consent, which can be frustrating to the person making the initial call.

“In a non-emergency situation, anyone can call Human Services at 203-341-1050 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or contact the Police non-emergency line at 341-6000 any time. The Police Department will always bring necessary backup, including Fire and EMS.

“If someone notices a pattern of suspicious activity, or has a concern about abuse or neglect, they can contact both numbers above or make a direct report to the Connecticut Department of Social Services Protective Services For The Elderly central intake line at 888-385- 4225. For after-hour reports, call 211.”

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