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The Gatekeepers Program

Posted Nov 12 2013 8:30am

In a related but entirely separate event from my trip to the Business Innovation Factory last week, back home on Thursday I attended a training session for the local Gatekeepers Program.

”Gatekeepers are people who come in to contact with at-risk older adults and persons with disabilities through their everyday work or day-to-day activities.

“People like meter readers, bank tellers, letter carriers, pharmacists, newspaper deliverers, neighbors, friends, or family members - the list is virtually endless,” explains the Gatekeeper website of Clackamas County where I live.

“Gatekeepers keep a watchful eye and attentive ear and call the...Helpline make a confidential referral if they have identified any warning signs that indicate a vulnerable adult may be in need of assistance.”

My training session was conducted by Margaret McNamara, program planner for the Gatekeepers Program in the Clackamas County Health, Housing & Human Services department.

As Margaret explained, when a Gatekeeper becomes concerned about someone, he or she calls the program's local phone number to report those concerns along with name, telephone number or address to help identify the person. Echoing Margaret, the website of a Gatekeeper Program in Connecticut explains further:

”The Gatekeeper’s name is kept confidential and their role ends with the call. Next, a trained professional senior advocate will establish contact with the referred senior to ask if they would like some helpful information or a visit that may result in a referral to the appropriate community service.

“Should the older adult refuse help the Gatekeeper will ask permission to call again in a month to check on their situation. This service is voluntary and forcing assistance is not the goal except in extreme cases where the advocate feels a referral to protective services is warranted.”

In more than 30 years since the first Gatekeeper Program was created in Spokane, Washington, the service has proliferated throughout the U.S. (and, possibly, in Canada) - sometimes called Gatekeeper or such similar names as Senior Reach as referenced in this abstract of a 2009 study done comparing its success with Spokane's program:

”The two programs were compared for seniors served on service variables and outcome ratings for isolation, depression, and functioning. Approximately 41% of seniors served by both programs were referred by nontraditional sources: community gatekeepers.

“Findings indicate that individuals served by the Senior Reach program demonstrated significant improvement in reduction of isolators (such as social isolation), improved functioning, increased optimism about the future, increased positive activities with others, decreased emotional disturbance, and improvements on the Geriatric Depression Scale.”

At my training session, I asked Margaret about reports from busybodies. Undoubtedly you too have known a few of those know-it-alls who are certain everyone else is doing things wrong. I wondered how Gatekeeper programs make distinctions between reports from gossipy troublemakers and those of honest concern.

Margaret convinced me that the trained social workers who take Gatekeeper calls know how to ferret out the nosy parkers.

Gatekeepers programs save lives and you don't need to be a grocery checkout clerk, a policeman or firefighter. All of us can be Gatekeepers and more that ever before, after my Business Innovation Factory day in Providence, I am convinced that it is elders ourselves who can do the best job of looking out for and helping one another.

If you are interested in Gatekeepers training – it's only about 90 minutes – search “gatekeepers program” in your favorite search engine to find out of there is one in your community. Then you can phone to find out about the next training session.

Gatekeepers is a useful, important and successful program, and retired people in particular, I believe, are in a good position to help other elders who may be at risk because unlike working-age people, we are more frequently out and about in our communities every day.

Here's a video I found from the Gatekeepers Program at St. Luke's Eldercare Services in Middletown, Connecticut. It was made about three years ago by Tom Hickman Films and although it is about twice as long as it needs to be, it will answer just about all the questions you might have.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Letters From Vietnam

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