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Project Lifesaver now ready for participants

WORTHINGTON -- Project Lifesaver is now poised to make a significant difference in Nobles County thanks to the generosity of many.Earlier this week, the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) presented a check for $38,332.29 to the N...

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Radio Works co-owner Chad Cummings (from left), Nobles County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chris Dybevick, Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening and Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) Executive Director Jeff Rotert pose with a $38,332.29 check presented to the sheriff’s office earlier this week. The funds will go toward the county-wide implementation of Project Lifesaver. (Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Project Lifesaver is now poised to make a significant difference in Nobles County thanks to the generosity of many.
Earlier this week, the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) presented a check for $38,332.29 to the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office to go entirely toward offering the Project Lifesaver program in the county. Total donations from 534 businesses and people in the amount of $24,332.29, which were made in conjunction with last month’s Deep Freeze Dip during Winterfest, along with $14,000 in matching funds from the WRHCF added up to the check’s final amount.
The primary mission of Project Lifesaver is to provide timely responses to save lives and reduce potential injuries for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism, and other related cognitive conditions or disorders. More than 1,400 member agencies in 48 states participating in Project Lifesaver, and a total of 3,107 individuals have been found nationwide since the program was first initiated in 1999 - without a single person lost.
From Jan. 25-27, seven county law enforcement personnel went through Project Lifesaver training.
“We went through three days of exhaustive training learning about everything from dementia, Alzheimer’s, autism and other types of cognitive disorders that people have,” Chief Deputy Chris Dybevick said. “We spent another day and a half actually learning with the tracking equipment.”
That equipment includes two FM receiver devices known as PLI-5000s, which pick up signals from the transmitter that each Project Lifesaver participant wears.
“During our training we actually had people get lost all throughout Worthington,” Dybevick said. “Without any clue where they were, we had to go and try to find them. Our fastest tracking was about seven minutes, and the slowest one was about 36 minutes. That one I found in the dark in the basement of a government building.
“After we did all our tracking, which is required by Project Lifesaver, we had to get tested on all the equipment,” he continued. “Then we did individual timed trackings - they mess up the equipment, and you have to then un-mess it up and track a participant.”
Each transmitter worn by a Project Lifesaver participant has a different frequency, Dybevick said, allowing for individualized signals to the PLI-5000.
“If you come to me and say ‘my loved one is missing,’ I’m going to ask you how long they’ve been missing and where they’re missing from, but the number one thing is what is their frequency,” he added.
The seven who are trained with Project Lifesaver to respond to wandering incidents have been strategically assigned locations throughout the county in order to make rescues as quickly as possible. A group of four Nobles County Sheriff’s Office employees has also been certified as Project Lifesaver International trainers, meaning that they can assist with required re-certifications every other year and train new people on the system.
In addition to assisting people who wander in Nobles County, Dybevick noted that there are significant benefits away from home, too.
“On the Project Lifesaver website, I can go find out all the Project Lifesaver programs in the country,” he said. “If family members are going away on vacation, they can feel safer about taking their loved ones with them because that Project Lifesaver information is transferrable.”
The Nobles County Sheriff’s Office began its implementation of Project Lifesaver with its receipt of a $5,000 grant that it utilized to purchase its two PLI-5000s and a number of transmitters. With the significant influx in new money, the program an be offered for free to anyone who needs it.
“We encourage anyone with a family member who qualifies to participate,” Dybevick stated. “The initial process of getting in the program takes a little time. You have to set up an appointment and meet with us as a family, and the deputy and the participant need to have some sort of rapport built up and be comfortable with one another.”
Participants will wear the transmitter wherever it’s most comfortable for them. Batteries put out a signal every second and are changed every 30 days or so. A deputy will check in with each participant and a loved one every month to make sure all is in place in the event of a wandering incident.
“People who wander just do it because they think it’s the right thing to do,” Dybevick said.
There’s no current limit to the number of Project Lifesaver participants the sheriff’s office can accommodate.
“We’re recruiting through a program at Minnesota West that deals with Alzheimer’s families and through participation with Public Health and the Nobles County Community Services Agency,” he said. “Right now, it’s really been been word-of-mouth.
“We’re very excited for people to use what we’re offering here for free. The whole point of doing it this way is making it self-sustaining so I don’t have to burden families with the cost of the program. Not everybody around the country offers Project Lifesaver for free.”
“We want to thank the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation for the partnership and everyone who contributed to Project Lifesaver,” Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said, “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to come up with the funds to sustain this program. It’s up and running now, and we’re excited to be starting the enrollment process.”

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Equipment utilized for Project Lifesaver includes the PLI-5000 frequency receiver (in black), along with wristbands (right, from top), batteries and transmitters. (Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe)

Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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