March 17, 2010

Sebago survey assesses elderly's needs

— It was the end of March 2005. Late-winter storms had dumped heavy, wet snow on Sebago all week, and the heavy snows had snapped trees and branches all over town. Most of the town had been without electrical power for three or four days, and emergency response personnel were worried about some of their neighbors who would be most vulnerable to the cold weather and loss of power.

Because of the high number of service calls that were coming in, Sebago Deputy Fire Chief Alan Greene had asked that firefighters man Station No. 1 in Mud City (the local name for Center Sebago, so called because before the roads were paved, it was a sea of mud and impassable to wagons and cars during spring mud season). Several first responders from the fire and rescue departments were standing by at the station. Sebago Rescue Deputy Chief Mike Foye met there with Fire Chief Ken Littlefield and Greene to plan a proactive response to check on the elderly, shut-in and infirm in town.

''We compiled this list of names during the ice storm of '98 when we lost power in town for an extended period,'' said Foye, pulling a list out of his coat to show to the group. ''Each name on the list was someone who could be in danger from the cold when we have an extended power loss like we are having now. We contacted each person to see if they were OK, if they were warm and had enough food and water, and if someone was checking in with them regularly while the power was out.''


Using the ice storm list as a starting point, the group pooled their knowledge of friends and neighbors and updated the list. Foye and firefighter/EMT Jason Schoolcraft took the ambulance and paid a visit to half the people on the list. I teamed with EMT Tim Smith in Fire Engine 3 for the other half.

We went door-to-door down the snowy back roads to see how everyone was doing and to provide water and whatever aid that might be needed. If someone couldn't get out, we were prepared to help them fill a prescription for medication if needed.

One elderly lady Smith and I visited was sitting in her kitchen, warm and cozy with a fire in her wood stove.

''I'm doing fine,'' she said. ''Thank you for coming by. You know, you shouldn't be out in this weather. Why don't you come in and have a cup of tea?''

We were fortunate that all the people we visited were doing well and dealing with the weather. Things could well have been different, however, and we were comforted to find that our fellow Sebago residents were faring well during the crisis.

Sebago has used a similar emergency notification system for other natural disasters, most recently the Patriots Day storm of 2007 when residents downstream of a dam were warned of possible flooding.

An important part of emergency planning is being prepared to assist the most vulnerable members of our population. When funding became available in 2007 to better identify the needs of the elderly and handicapped in Sebago, town officials took advantage of it.

The town of Sebago received a federal Community Development Block Grant from Cumberland County to conduct a survey of Sebago seniors (65 and over) and residents with disabilities. The goal is to be better prepared to deal with natural disasters in responding to their health and safety needs.

We also want to learn more about the kinds of programs and services that would enhance the living environment for these important segments of our town's population and to allow them to keep living in Sebago as long as possible.

Finally, we wanted to find out what housing rehabilitation needs they might have so that we can seek grants for programs to help winterize and rehabilitate their homes.


Town Manager Robert Nicholson assembled a committee to prepare a survey to answer these questions. Members were Champagne, Pastor Jim Ledoux, Pastor Karen Moore, health officer Helen Twombly, food pantry assistant director Roberta Douglass and the Sebago selectmen. Assisting the committee were Elizabeth Trice and Caroline Paras from the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

The town mailed the survey to all Sebago residents in early February.

The survey asks respondents to tell about themselves, their family, hobbies and interests, plans for the future and plans for what to do in an emergency.

Residents are asked what would help them stay in Sebago, including assistance with home maintenance and repair, better physical access inside and outside their home, in-home visits from a caregiver or medical personnel. They are also asked about the programs they participate in or would like to participate in, such as Meals on Wheels, regional transportation, and the senior dining center.

And they are asked what programs or facilities they would like to see offered in Sebago, such as more educational or social activities and medical or personal care programs.

No Sebago tax dollars are being used to conduct the survey, and participation is strictly voluntary. Individual responses are confidential, but respondents are asked if someone may contact them in the event of a disaster or public health emergency.

Respondents can also request information on programs designed to assist the elderly.

Responses will be used to help shape programs for Sebago's senior and disabled residents and may include assistance to winterize homes, response plans for a natural disasters or emergencies, and efforts to expand transportation and health care services to Sebago.

For information about the survey, to request a visit or to volunteer to help in this community-wide planning effort, contact Robert Nicholson, Sebago town manager, at (207) 787-2002 or e-mail him at TownManager@

Residents are asked to mail their completed surveys to the town office at 406 Bridgton Road, Sebago, ME 04029 or drop them off there.

To have someone come to your home to help you complete the survey, call the town manager to request it.

Allen Crabtree lives in Sebago, where he is active in community affairs. He can be contacted at:

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