Adult Watch earns trust from Villagers

Community Watch dispatcher Deb Ballard, of the Village of Sabal Chase, checks a log listing residents’ requests for wellness checks Wednesday at the Community Watch building.

“I look forward to their call every morning,” Marge Gagne said of the Community Watch. “It’s like I’m talking to another friend.” Gagne, 94 of the Village of Silver Lake, is one of the 87 Villagers who received 17,981 daily phone calls last year from the Community Watch as part of  its Adult Watch program. The number of residents using the program, which checks on residents’ welfare, has increased 28 percent over the past four months. Juliane Day, communications manager for the Community Watch, credits word of mouth and a new program where Community Watch actively reaches out to the community to get more Villagers to sign up.

They have another program where, if a patrol driver sees two or more newspapers accumulating in a driveway, he or she will try to contact the resident to make sure they are OK. If they can’t make contact, further attempts will be made to check on the resident’s welfare, including contacting law enforcement.

Community Watch recently began to follow up with people they’ve contacted about newspapers in the driveway and ask if they are interested in signing up for Adult Watch.

For Gagne, who has used the program for years, it allows her to live on her own, confident that someone is looking out for her.

About four years ago, when Gagne was 90 or 91, her family took her to dinner theater and she had a scary moment.

“Suddenly I couldn’t move,” she said. “Someone almost ran into me because I just stopped. I couldn’t move.”

It was at that time she decided to sign up for the Adult Watch program. This past July, that decision may have saved her life.

“I was just sitting in my chair experiencing chest pains, and in my back too,” she said. “I didn’t want to go into an anxiety attack.”

Then her daily phone call from the Community Watch came. Gagne talked with the caller, and told her what was happening.

“The ambulance showed up within five minutes,” she said.

Gagne is thankful to be in The Villages, where a program like this is available. Before, she and a friend would call each other every day, but that friend moved back up North and passed away. Gagne is the last of 10 siblings in her family. She said she would have no one to check on her every day if it weren’t for the Community Watch, and without that phone call, she probably couldn’t live at home.

“They’re very friendly,” she said. “They ask a lot of questions. Oct. 1, I had a pipe burst under my home. When they’d call, they’d ask ‘How is your kitchen coming along?’ It’s nice they remember that.”

Building rapport with Adult Watch residents is something that Adult Watch coordinator Debbie Ballard said they take pride in.

“We take notes when we talk to them,” she said. “We get to know them. If they talk about their nephew, the next time we call, we’ll ask, ‘How is your nephew doing?’ They’re our Adult Watch family.”

But she said not all residents are chatty.

“Some people don’t want to talk,” she said. “They just say ‘I’m OK. Thanks for calling,’ and then they hang up.”

This past holiday season, the Community Watch received a donation, and was able to purchase gift baskets for the 17 Adult Watch residents who were alone on Christmas. Ballard hand delivered them.

The recipient of one of those baskets was Fred Jurkofsky, also of the Village of Silver Lake. He began using Adult Watch at the beginning of December after having surgery. His wife passed away in 2017, and with him living on his own, health care professionals were concerned about him being at home during his recovery.

“It probably would have meant I would have had to go into a rehab facility,” he said. “I would have gone flat nuts.”

But the Adult Watch program allowed him to stay in his home while he recovered since there was someone checking on him every day.

“It was my first surgery without anyone else in the home,” he said. “I didn’t even think of the Community Watch before then. It’s good to know they’re there. With my youngest son three hours away, and my other son eight hours away, it’s peace of mind for them, too.”

Jurkofsky is recovering well from his surgery and is able to drive now, but he said he would have to think about continuing with Adult Watch.

Giving seniors, and their families and doctors, the confidence that they can stay in their homes alone is what the program is all about, said Day.

“We don’t do this because people are old and frail and can’t take care of themselves,” she said. “It’s not about that. It’s about giving people peace of mind.”

For Jurkofsky and Gagne, it’s working.

“I couldn’t stay if someone didn’t call me every day,” Gagne said. “I couldn’t go back north. I couldn’t stand the cold. I’m going to stay as long as I can. My kids ask, ‘Ma, don’t you think it’s time for you to go to an assisted living?’ I say, ‘No!’”

To sign up for the Adult Watch program, either go to the Community Watch at 1135 Bonita Blvd. in person or call 352-753-0550 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Phill Stuart is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5332, or phillip.stuart@thevillagesmedia.com.