In a way, Sheriff Chris Dickinson’s hoping it never does.
“We haven’t had any emergencies yet, but I think the program has helped,” Dickinson said.
Started early last year, the “call tree” is a free service that allows Itawamba County residents to add their names to a list of people called each morning by a 911 dispatcher. If no one answers that call, a deputy will drive to the participant’s house to check on him or her.
The calls are generally made between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. every morning, although some people choose to have several checkups each day. It usually takes the dispatcher between 30 minutes and an hour to perform a full round of checks.
Currently, there are about 25 regular users of the service, although this number fluctuates frequently because many people use the service temporarily. The service primarily targets the elderly, although any county resident can use it for a variety of reasons — say, checking in on someone who’s sick or injured.
Sometimes, Dickinson said, people use the service to have deputies perform a welfare check on someone from whom they haven’t heard in several days. In most cases, these checkups result in little more than someone feeling a bit better. The sheriff said that’s OK.
“We’ve had good feedback from that, not just the people who are on the call tree, but from their families as well,” he said. “It’s a good program.”
The program was inspired by a similar one implemented by the Union County Sheriff’s Department in 2010 … a program which actually has saved a life. According to Dickinson, Union County officers responded to an elderly woman’s home after receiving no answer to their routine morning call. When they arrived at her home, they found the woman had fallen outside and couldn’t get up.
While life-saving is certainly a priority, the sheriff said the main purpose of the program is to provide Itawamba County residents with a little peace of mind. It doesn’t take long to make a few phone calls, he said. If that helps someone feel better about having to leave a loved one at home alone, it’s worth that bit of extra time.
“It gives people a reassurance and peace of mind, especially when we’re talking about the elderly or the sick,” he said. “Fortunately, it’s one thing we can provide that doesn’t really cost the taxpayers anything.”
And even though it hasn’t saved a life yet, the sheriff believes it very well could.
“Anything we can do that might save a person’s life someday, we want to do,” he said.
For more information on the “call tree” service, contact the Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department at 862-3401.