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:

  • Exchange phone numbers and ask for a loved one’s contact information, just in case.
  • Check in with them regularly, or set up a  simple check-in. For example, offer to do their grocery shopping or bring them their mail. Request that the senior provides a regular “signal” to their neighbors, like opening and closing a specific blind each day, to avoid concerned neighbors making unnecessary calls for welfare checks.
  • Consider encouraging them to register for a Human Services program, or participate in the Westport Center for Senior Activities.
  • DHS has several call programs to provide additional support and welfare checks for registered residents. Anyone wishing to receive a friendly call from a community volunteer (Hello, Neighbor), a welfare check during emergencies (Emergency Registry), or to register special circumstances through our Voluntary Registry for People with Disabilities can contact DHS through the links above, call 203-341-1050, or email or humansrv@westportct.gov.
  • Seniors and people with disabilities may be eligible to receive home delivered meals. This provides an additional layer of support, because volunteers personally deliver meals to recipients weekly.

“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.”

2 responses to “Neighbors Helping Neighbors: What We All Can Do

  1. Cheryl McKenna

    Our social services are top notch and this poor man afraid of COVID caused his failing health and death .
    As a past president and long time board member of visiting neighbours in Manhattan ( mostly Greenwich Village and Chelsea now ) we visit the elderly and home bound . This organisation of course has many MSW professionals on staff and the director has a PHD is social services . If I may be so bold as to suggest we connect our social services with Cynthia ( the director) to discuss ways to help our community? As an observer from LWV of Westport I have watched social services for years and they have much on their plate. Too many to mention here when addressing the elderly in our community. They go above and beyond every time . My mom was a recipient of their kindness and warmth as well. This incident must have hurt them but I assure you they are not to blame. I’m rambling because I wonder if setting up a visiting neighbourhood group would just be another thing to manage and they already handle our elderly so beautifully … thoughts?

  2. We had checked in on an elderly neighbor who lived alone from time to time and never once thought to ask for emergency contact information. When we noticed a concerning decline in her functioning, we thankfully were able to quickly locate her children because she was registered at the Senior Center, and her children were listed as emergency contacts. (The Senior Center, properly, did not release that information to us but itself made the calls to the children with our concerns.) Maintaining some sort of registry with that information with DHS for our at risk neighbors might be something to consider.

    I truly feel for the families who tried to help and wondered if they could have done more. Even after experiencing my own family member’s memory decline and knowing how it eventually made reliable self-care impossible, I hesitated, believing that my call would start the ball rolling toward stripping her of her much prized independence. I had to be reminded that when the signs are clear enough to raise concern, the ball was already rolling.

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