Niagara Gazette

September 14, 2013

Lewiston police asking: R.U.O.K.?

Innovative police program helps to make sure Lewiston senior citizens are safe

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — When Lewiston police officers approached the home of an elder resident on July 2 they immediately heard someone yelling for help.

The officers entered the home and found a 92-year-old woman lying on the floor and suffering from a head injury. They called for an ambulance and the woman was taken to Mount St. Mary’s Hospital to be treated.

A happy ending to a story that could have turned out very differently had the woman not been signed up with the Lewiston Police Department’s RUOK program. Though the program has been around for almost 20 years, it seems to fly under the radar of many folks who live in the town.

“It’s a free service and it would be nice if more people took advantage of it,” Town Police Chief Christopher Salada said. “Over the years we’ve saved people who have fallen or had other types of emergencies.”

RUOK is an automated computer program that keeps Lewiston police in touch with senior citizens in the town and village and makes sure they’re safe in their homes.

“It’s a computer system, located (at police headquarters) that is exclusively dedicated to calling elderly people who live alone to make sure that they’re ‘OK’,” Salada said. 

Residents fill out an application that includes contact information for their doctor and a friend or family member, and then pick a time when they want to be called every day. When their phone rings daily, they simply pick up the call and hear an automated message from the RUOK system.

The message tells the resident the Lewiston police are checking to make sure they’re OK. If the resident is OK, they just hang up the phone.

However, if the resident doesn’t answer the call, the system dials them back in about 15 minutes to check their welfare again. If there’s no answer on the second call, the RUOK system sends out an alert to police dispatchers.  

“At that point we’ll make a personal call to the home and attempt to contact their friend or family member,” Salada said. “If we can’t reach their contact person, we’ll go jump in a car and check in on them ourselves.’

That’s how police ended up at the door of the 92-year-old woman.

Salada said the program is easy to sign up for and residents can join the service at any time. Officers have made applications available at senior centers in the town and village.

It started as a program in the village and we expanded it to the town,” Salada said. “I don’t understand why more people wouldn’t take advantage of it.”

Salada called the program “very cost efficient” and said he would recommend it to other local police agencies.

Lewiston Town Councilman Ernest Palmer, a former Falls police superintendent and long-time lawman, said he’s been impressed with the program since he first learned about it.

“I think it’s great, I think it’s wonderful,” Palmer said, “There are a lot of elderly people who live alone here and this is just a great tool to keep them safe.”

Palmer also said he’d urge other communities to look into the service. 

“I don’t know why the wouldn’t” he said, “I don’t know why ever community hasn’t installed this program. It makes all the sense in the world.”