MedicAlert is innovating how information can be made available in safe and secure ways during an emergency, but that might not mean what you think it does. The future will probably bring acceptance and greater adoption of technologies like biometrics, RFID, or even QR codes. We definitely see a future of a “smarter” MedicAlert ID. However, innovating for better outcomes today can mean creating new and better ways to connect MedicAlert information with the people responsible for our members’ care within current, available systems. The MedicAlert LEAP program does just this while enabling law enforcement organizations across the United States to be proactive in support of those who may be at risk for wandering.
In the fall of 2015, MedicAlert Foundation met with the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance in order to work on a solution to a problem that was becoming a significant issue for the thousands of law enforcement organizations nationwide. Police and sheriff’s departments from Arizona to Florida to Massachusetts and everywhere in between had started individual efforts to proactively support those in their communities with Alzheimer’s and related dementia. Their efforts were to get emergency contact and identifying information about the people in their community who may wander and not be able to fully communicate in order to safely and efficiently bring them home if an incident occurred.
“Six in ten people with dementia will wander. A person with Alzheimer's may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it.” - Alzheimer’s Association
Proactive outreach and planning is wonderful and these law enforcement organizations should be applauded for their efforts. However, there needed to be a standardized system that would be secure and accessible whether the person who wandered remained in their home city or got on a bus and was several miles and multiple cities away. There needed to be a system where caregivers and people with Alzheimer’s could opt-in to having this information stored, where all law enforcement agencies could access appropriately during an emergency, and where it would be maintained in a secure way.
Support the Alzheimer’s community, provide a valuable resource for law enforcement, and literally help save lives? This is precisely what MedicAlert Foundation was created 60 years ago to do. For over a decade MedicAlert and Alzheimer’s Association have partnered to provide a national emergency response service for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency. This program is called MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® and extending this further while supporting law enforcement efforts was an easy decision. We put on our innovation hats and went to work on an idea that a few months later would be a pilot program called LEAP, or Law Enforcement Agency Portal.
In March of 2016 a few eager police departments began piloting the new program that had four main features:
- A unique online portal where a law enforcement agency can log in securely and directly enroll members of their community in the MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® program.
- The new members being enrolled in the program would receive an iconic MedicAlert bracelet personally engraved to meet their needs and be introduced to a variety of free services, educational materials, and support systems.
- The law enforcement organization would be able to access the information easily and quickly during an emergency through MedicAlert’s renowned 24/7 emergency call center.
- The law enforcement organization would have clear access to training that would help officers understand Alzheimer’s and produce better outcomes for interactions.
Over the course of the next six months, we worked with these pilot groups in order to determine what fixes could be made and how to best support their needs. One glaring need was extending this service beyond those with Alzheimer’s or related dementia to also allow enrollment for people with autism or other conditions in which there is a wandering risk. MedicAlert worked closely with the National Autism Association, the organization in the US that has worked diligently on awareness and resources regarding wandering and autism, to develop a program and protocols in order to best support autism caregivers and their loved ones. With the new service, Autism Found, in place, enrollment was extended to the LEAP program immediately.
After numerous edits, functionality changes, and hearing back from real people that this program helped, MedicAlert finished the pilot and opened this program to all law enforcement organizations at no cost. That’s right, there is no need for budget analysis or fiscal year planning, this program doesn’t cost the law enforcement organization or any of the people they enroll in the program a dollar.
There are currently close to 100 law enforcement organizations participating in this program. We have an ambitious goal to reach 500 before the end of 2017. We will continue to develop this program based on the feedback we get, but we’re encouraged by the response so far. Every law enforcement organization that participates directly correlates to MedicAlert Foundation supporting more people when they need it most.
This is what we are here for and this is just the beginning. We have a lot of big ideas about how we can innovate to help solve problems like wandering, to provide resources to first responders, and to connect the communities of people we support together. Innovation is happening today, but we’re certainly excited about the plans for tomorrow!
If you want your local police or sheriff’s department to be a part of this program, help us spread the word. Write, call, tweet your local department and let them know this free program is available. Here’s a link to share: http://www.medicalert.org/leap
We would like to personally thank Linda Hammond-Deckard of the US Department of Justice for her unwavering support and insights in developing this program.