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Cochise County program calls isolated residents to ask: ‘Are you OK?’

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BISBEE – Four miles from the border, the prefab house sits on acres of land. The closest neighbor is more than a mile away.

Sheila Goar, 74, has lived on this land her entire life. She is the only member of her family left in the area, with a sister she doesn’t speak to and a brother in Idaho, she used to rely on distant neighbors and friends who occasionally checked in on her.

Now she’s in a wheelchair and relies on a home care worker for help with her daily tasks. She said she also relies on her automated phone call each morning from the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office. listen

“The sheriff’s department is the closest – might as well say ‘relative’ that I have,” she said.

Goar was the first community member to sign up for the Are You Okay program, which the department established for residents who need someone to check in on them but don’t have a support system to turn to.

The phone call is an automated message and can be scheduled for as many times a week as needed to make the user feel safe.

“I get my call at 9 every morning,” Goar said. “That way I know what time it is. It’s time to get up, time to get showered and dressed and do whatever I can do.”

When Goar answers the call, a voice prompt asks her to press 8 to verify that she and not a machine has answered.

“When they call you, they ask you if you are all right and then they leave you a message that if you need help to call,” she said. “It gives me two numbers to call, which I know already but still it is nice.”

Carol Capas, public information officer for Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, has worked on the program since the beginning. She said there were challenges in getting it off the ground.

“It was between $4,000 and $5,000, which doesn’t sound like a lot of money,” she said. “It was a lot of money for us to come up with because we didn’t have anything in our general fund in order to take care of that.”

Grants from the local Chamber of Commerce and United Way covered that.

The program launched in 2010, but Sheriff Mark Dannels and his staff started promoting it on the Web only recently. At present, 15-20 people use it.

“I think once the program gets some momentum and some awareness it will grow,” Dannels said. “It is free to those in need and allows them some safety and gives them safety and comfort to their family that they are being checked on.”

Cochise County is over 6,200 square miles and has 84 sworn officers, including administrative staff. Capas said the program actually saves time for officers.

“The beauty of this program is that it is not very labor-intensive for personnel because we don’t have many people who are able to free up enough time to completely dedicate to one program because we have so many of them,” Capas said. “We put the information in it and it calls at various times and then if they don’t answer it gives us an alert and we are able to send law enforcement to make sure they are OK.”

Capas said she believes they have saved a life. A community member she declined to name went into diabetic shock. After she neglected to answer the Are You Okay phone calls, the police found her unconscious but breathing in her home and were able to get her the help she needed.

Not every interaction ends that well. Shelia Goar neglected to notify Are You Okay that she was going to a doctor’s appointment and wouldn’t be able to answer her phone. When police arrived to check on her, they could hear crying in the house and broke through the glass door.

“They heard my dog cry and thought it was a person,” Goar said.