Independence, dignity and choice are the building blocks of the system of services that support elders and people with disabilities in Oregon. Living a life full of choices, friends and family, and in a setting of your choice, reflects the values most of us hold onto as we age.

Yet there is a daily barrage of information about the scams that target older adults, stories of isolation and health issues that can make someone an easy target to be taken advantage of and situations where cognitive or medical issues create situations of self-neglect. Being an elder does not mean that you should compromise your interest in living a full life.

In an ideal community, everyone has loving, supportive family living nearby and friends that help as needed. When the need for professional support and services becomes clear, the help that is necessary is just a phone call away.

The social service system generally does a good job of advertising or marketing the programs and supports that are available, but the truth is that most of us don’t pay attention until we experience a need personally or through a family member. One of the most common comments we receive is, “I didn’t know these programs were here to help.”

We are always looking for ways to improve the community education work that we do and make it easier to know how to find help. One way for these efforts to be more effective is the Gatekeeper Program.

The idea of a Gatekeeper Program has been around since the late 1970s and is known as the method of training bank tellers, utility workers, postal employees and other people who have public contact to identify the red flags that may indicate that someone is ill, in trouble or struggling in some way. The training of the Gatekeeper helps them identify the potential red flags and then make a referral to the proper place so that assistance can be offered. For older adults and people with disabilities, the referral would be to our Aging and Disability Resource Connection or ADRC. This is our front door to a wide variety of services, referrals to programs and professional advice.

Later this year we will begin to offer Gatekeeper training to a wide variety of professionals and businesses across the region. In other parts of Oregon, the Gatekeeper Program has been effective in reaching individuals who may be at risk. The experience in the Portland area is that about two-thirds of the referrals were given to an adult protective services worker for a personal contact to ensure that the person was safe and healthy. The experience has also been that almost half of the people referred by a Gatekeeper were for people not already receiving help. Getting help is the key to preventing more serious health issues or in stopping abuse and neglect.

The Gatekeeper Program will partner with businesses that are already providing their employees training in identifying changes in their customers that constitute a “red flag.” The training will be offered to utility companies,

police/fire/rescue organizations, banks and credit unions, postal employees, managers of mobile home parks and apartment complexes, and employees of transportation services.    

The businesses that already provide this training to their employees are leading the way, and we will support them through this program. The Gatekeeper Program training will help expand the number of businesses involved in this partnership and as a community help us to reach vulnerable or isolated people. These are partnerships that help build a safer community for all of us.

Scott Bond is the Director of Senior and Disability Services for Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments, the Area Agency on Aging for Benton, Linn, and Lincoln counties.  He can be reached at 541-812-6008 or by e mail at sbond@ocwcog.org.

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