December 6, 2021

‘I am OK Today’ a check for senior citizens

Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Jim Keyser, 82, of Cortland, makes a call on Christmas day. Senior citizens in Cortland County can sign up for a program, ‘I am OK,’ to check on their welfare.

Ellen Wright starting worrying about the “what ifs” after her husband died.

Because now she was living alone in her home, with her family and children several hours away or out of state.

What if something happened to her in the household and she couldn’t get to the telephone?

The Cortland woman, in her 70s, a retired nurse, was married to the late Dennis Wright, who passed away five years ago in December.

‘I Am OK Today’

• A daily reassurance telephone call program to check on senior citizens in Cortland County who live alone and have no family in the area.
• Free.
• Call the 911 dispatch coordinator at 607-753-5066 or the Area Agency on Aging at 607-753-5060 to sign up.

“I was concerned about myself. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything. Then one time, I had a fall. I thought, ‘I better do something about it.’”

Wright started looking into programs that could make her feel safer and she found out about, “I Am OK Today.”

“I Am OK Today” is a telephone reassurance program for senior citizens living in Cortland County. Seniors who live alone with no family or friends to check on them daily can sign up for the service.

Once signed up, they call into the Cortland County 911 Center every day by 2 p.m., to say, ‘I am OK.’

If the center dispatcher does not get a call from the person, they either send a neighbor/friend or police officer to the house to check on him or her.

The program is sponsored by the Cortland County 911 Center and the Cortland Area Agency on Aging. It is free.

“It’s a fantastic program that we have in town,” Wright said. “I talk it up all over the place.”

Leslie Wilkins, director of Cortland Prevention Resources, heard about the program after a man called for his uncle who was living alone. She tracked down Melissa Alvord, aging services specialist for the Area Aging on Aging, as a contact who told her only a handful of people are signed up.

Wilkins thought more people might want to know about this.

“It’s very unpublicized,” Alvord said. “It’s a great program.”

“It’s important for the elderly people who don’t have any family or friends to check on them,” she said.

Alvord said there are a lot of seniors living alone. And some of those seniors are lonely and can’t get out of their houses.

Some people don’t have children or their children live out of the area, Alvord said.

“A lot of times elderly people outlive their friends and family so they are by themselves,” she said.

The program has been in place for over 20 years and was started by the Sheriff’s Department.

“I went to the Area Agency on Aging and filled out a one-page form,” Wright said. It was very simple.

She makes her call. It’s short. “I am OK today,” she tells the dispatcher.

“They say, ‘Good.” “Terrific.’”

“There is no obligation to have a conversation,” Wright said.

If the senior does not call, they are checked on. It’s not like a 911 call, Wright said.

“It’s to check on you, to see if you are OK. Maybe you have fallen and can’t get up,” Wright said.

“Two times I have forgotten to call in the morning. They come to the house. I see the (police) car. Oh my gosh. And it alarms the neighbors, police coming to the house,” Wright said.

She developed a system to not forget, having a special calendar with a check mark in the day she’s in to remind herself she called.

“They are so sweet, even if I forget. One day I called later in the morning. ‘We were talking about you, whether you had called in.’ It’s a small town thing that is comforting,” Wright said.

People can call the 911 dispatch coordinator at 607-753-5066 or the Area Agency on Aging at 607-753- 5060 to sign up.

“It gives me peace of mind,” Wright said.

She’s worried something could happen to her and she could be found days later by her loved ones. She doesn’t want them to be put in that position.

“There are a lot of people out there that are by themselves and not on this program,” Wright said.