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Hope and First Responders Keep Project Lifesaver Running in Lycoming County

Since 2007, Hope Enterprises — which provides services to individuals with intellectual disabilities — has teamed up with area first responders in Lycoming County to protect individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism, Down syndrome and similar conditions through Project Lifesaver®. Based in Chesapeake, Virginia, Project Lifesaver uses a radio-frequency transmitter in a bracelet and relies on local first responders using detection equipment to help families and caregivers find individuals who may become disoriented and wander.

Formed in 1999, the international program has a 100-percent recovery rate, locating and rescuing more than 3,400 people, most within 30 minutes.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60 percent of individuals with dementia will wander. Of those still missing after 24 hours, only a third will survive. A 2012 study in the Journal of Pediatricsreported that 49 percent of children with autism wander from safe supervision, and 29 percent of those cases occur in a classroom or school setting. Cases involving children age 9 and younger have ended in death 42 percent of the time.

In December 2004, before Project Lifesaver was in place in the county, a 9-year-old autistic boy wandered from his Lycoming County home without a jacket, wearing bedroom slippers. About 200 rescuers searched for the boy. Four days after the child went missing, a state forester discovered the boy’s frozen body approximately a mile from his home. His death was the impetus for bringing Project Lifesaver to the county.

The South Williamsport Area Police Department, which conducted the search for the missing boy, approached Hope and asked the local non-profit to administer the program in Lycoming County. Since then, Hope staff has determined program eligibility, completed paperwork, reviewed and established fee schedules, distributed transmitters and monitored individuals in the program. Information about program participants is uploaded to a secure database, accessible only by program administrators and local first responder agencies.

“I always tell people to think of Project Lifesaver as an insurance policy that you don’t want to have to use,” says Ann Ohnmeiss, a quality assurance associate at Hope Enterprises who manages the program. “Although there are other systems out there, with this program, we go out and find the person and bring them home.”

In 2009, an 8-year-old boy with Down Syndrome who was enrolled in the program wandered away from his Loyalsock home while wearing a Project Lifesaver bracelet. Armed with the project’s tracking equipment, South Williamsport Police were able to locate the boy within ten minutes after they arrived on the scene.

Currently, the program serves 43 individuals ranging in age from 4 to 81 in Lycoming County. The Williamsport Fire Department is the primary first responder that works with Hope to manage the program. Other area first responders that have Project Lifesaver tracking equipment include the South Williamsport and Tiadaghton police departments and the Loyalsock Fire Department.

The cost of the program includes the purchase of Project Lifesaver kits, each of which contains a transponder, a battery tester, 12 water-resistant wrist/ankle bands and 12 batteries. Hope officials or first responders meet monthly with families, caregivers and individuals enrolled in the program to change the transponder’s batteries, replace the device’s band, review a daily battery-testing log, and discuss any issues. Program participants are charged a monthly fee based on a sliding scale.

Lycoming County families or caregivers interested in enrolling an individual in the county’s Project Lifesaver program should contact Ohnmeiss at 570-326-3745, ext. 1239, or

Press Release

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