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A voice of caring to help start day

About 80 people living alone check in daily with the Hernando County Care Line. If they don't, an operator calls them.

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published July 13, 2006


SPRING HILL - On a typical morning, Sophie Lonaberger picks up the just-delivered newspaper.

After reading through it and completing the puzzles, she downs her coffee and toast before making a phone call - one of the most reassuring moments in her day.

Since her husband, Charlie, died two years ago, the 74-year-old Spring Hill resident has spoken to a Care Line operator most mornings. She calls to let the operator know she's okay.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office started Care Line several years ago as a free, year-round service to those living alone in the county. Each morning between 7 and 11 o'clock, program members phone in and let operators know they are all right.

If Care Line doesn't get a phone call, and a resident hasn't let operators know he or she will be away from home that day, an operator calls. As Lonaberger knows, sometimes it's just a matter of forgetting.

"I can get really engrossed in the paper," she said, laughing. "Then, every once in a while, I get that call from Care Line. They say, 'Sophie, did you forget to do something this morning?' "

When there is no answer, a neighbor or friend listed as a contact is sent to check. If that person can't determine what's going on, a sheriff's deputy comes to scope out the house.

"And if we can't confirm someone is inside and okay, and there's no spare key, then we force our way in," said Sgt. Jim Powers, Care Line director. "But we always try to exhaust all means before we break into the house."

About 80 county residents use the program. Two call centers, one on each side of the county, help the Sheriff's Office manage areas from Ridge Manor to Spring Hill.

Considering her past heart problems, Lonaberger likes knowing someone is watching out for her. That's what Powers calls peace of mind, especially when so many county residents have loved ones who live out of state.

Lonaberger's two daughters live in Pennsylvania, and her son is in North Carolina. She heard about the program from a friend, and got her neighbor, 81-year-old Alice Franceschina, involved.

The program also checks out how people are living. Powers routinely visits applicants to make sure they have a secure home with water, electricity and other essentials.

If not, the person can then be referred to other county programs for additional help.

Care Line is meant to supplement panic or alert alarms residents may use to protect themselves, Powers said. The program is paid for through the Sheriff's Office budget.

So far, there have been no major emergencies the Sheriff's Office has had to respond to, Powers said. But there have been a few close calls.

A few months ago, a Ridge Manor woman fell and got stuck between her bed and night stand. When she didn't call Care Line, operators alerted a neighbor. She was later found wedged in the small space.

Another time, a Care Line operator noticed the slurred speech of another resident who called in one morning. It turned out that the caller had low blood sugar, and the situation could have escalated if a doctor hadn't been called in.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.

[Last modified July 12, 2006, 23:24:10]


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