PARKERSBURG - Already in 38 counties, Project Lifesaver continues to expand and now has a temporary office in room 202 of the Wood County Courthouse.
The nonprofit program assists families and caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer's, Autism, Down syndrome, stroke, traumatic brain injury and other cognitive disabilities who are prone to wander. Through use of a radio transmitter attached as a bracelet on the individual and tracking equipment, trained Project Lifesaver search and rescue teams can track individuals on the ground, from the air, underwater or even underground.
Sue Patalano, administrator for Wood County Project Lifesaver, also serves as West Virginia state coordinator for the program. Patalano's office has temporarily been relocated to room 202 in the courthouse. Plans are to move the office into the law library of the judicial annex once the books there are removed. The state Supreme Court has closed a number of law libraries around the state, including Wood County's library.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Sue Patalano, administrator for Wood County Project Lifesaver, also serves as Project Lifesaver West Virginia state coordinator.
Wood County was the first county in the state to adopt Project Lifesaver.
"I am working now with six more counties that have contacted me: Boone, Mineral, Hardy, Morgan, Wayne and Roane counties. The first step will be meeting with their county commissioners. Usually the local sheriff, director of emergency services or 911 officials invite me to come. The ultimate goal when I started back in 2005 was to get this program into all 55 counties in the state," Patalano said.
The program is funded through grants and donations. Some of the grant funds are earmarked only for startup money to establish the program in other counties.
There are 48 active clients on the program in Wood County. Patalano said 250 have been enrolled.
"They come and go off the program depending on their circumstances, " Patalano said. Ages of enrollees are from 4 to their 90s.
Cost for the program is $10 a month for battery/bracelet replacements. The Parkersburg Fire Department volunteers to assist with battery and bracelet changeovers.
"We never turn anyone down because of inability to pay. If they cannot afford the fee, I find sponsorships for them," Patalano said.
The program has had 10 successful search and rescues locally since its inception.
Involved with the program since day one, Patalano said she feels the program makes a real difference in people's lives.
"This has been a successful and worthwhile program sponsored by the Wood County Sheriff's office since 2005. It's seldom a person gets to do something that's good for their state, and when I see how happy the people are when they realize somebody is there for them when a loved one wanders off, it makes me feel good. Of course, I don't do it alone, but that's what keeps me going," she said.
The average search and rescue time of Project Lifesaver is under 30 minutes with no fatalities or serious injuries compared to traditional searches which can take days or weeks, according to the national organization.
Patalano said she's passionate about the program and it has a proven track record.
"Within about 20 days of receiving their training, Nicholas County officers were able to locate a client who had wandered off within 16 minutes with only their basic training and one piece of equipment. That's just one great example of how the program does what it says it will do," Patalano said.
For more information or to sign up for the program, contact Patalano with Project Lifesaver by calling 304-424-1769.