Thursday, July 24, 2008

Working to keep fellow seniors safe

Capitol Heights woman’s action has led to elevator repair, improved emergency preparedness

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Lucy Anthony of Capitol Heights has raised awareness of personal safety among her peers by organizing a fire and personal safety meeting in her building, St. Paul’s Senior Living Center, after being trapped in May in her wheelchair in the building’s elevator.
After being stuck in an elevator with a nonworking phone for five hours, Lucy Anthony of Capitol Heights’ St. Paul’s Senior Living Center took action to make sure no other resident felt as helpless as she did.

Anthony, 71, coordinated a senior safety presentation at the center July 16 and invited officials from the county sheriff’s department and fire and EMS department to educate seniors on fire safety and planning escape routes in case of an emergency. Though she did not have a specific head count, Anthony said the meeting was well attended. More than 220 residents live in the building. Anthony made more than 200 informational booklets and created a sample first aid kit and emergency item list with items such as a portable radio, flashlight, lantern and an ID bracelet.

‘‘There was so much wealth and knowledge that they left the residents with,” Anthony said. ‘‘It was really wonderful. I had displayed many items. I made a first aid kit with all kinds of medical items in it. It looked very professional.”

Anthony, who lives on the top floor of the four-story complex, said she was stuck in one of three elevators May 31 and was unable to call anyone because the elevator phone was broken. Anthony, an amputee who uses a wheelchair, said county fire and rescue personnel had to pry open the elevator door to free her.

Anthony, a diabetic, said she tried not to panic, but thoughts of having a medical emergency, such as going into hypoglycemic shock, frightened her. Since that day she always called a friend to let her know anytime she entered the elevator at the center. The elevator and phone were repaired July 1.

Lauren McDonald, spokeswoman for Bozzuto, released a statement about the incident, stating the building had a power outage May 31 and all three elevators were out of service at one time but one elevator did not respond to the back-up generator. McDonald said that elevator had faulty wiring and was out of service for ‘‘approximately three hours” and was rewired and working the following day.

‘‘To our knowledge, no residents were inside the one elevator while it was out of service,” McDonald said. ‘‘The comfort and satisfaction of our residents is our highest priority and we remain committed to providing them with an exceptional living experience.”

Anthony, head of the center’s fire safety committee, said the meeting provided valuable advice such as not overloading electrical outlets and not running during a fire. Instead, a victim should drop low to the ground and roll.

‘‘I know seniors may not be able to get down low but they need to get down low enough to get down safely,” Anthony said.

She said many residents asked for a similar meeting to be held in the future.

Denise Watkins, senior safety coordinator for the county’s fire and EMS department, presented a slide show about fire safety, fire prevention and emergency preparedness, and came with tip sheets and literature for residents. Watkins said she holds similar presentations annually in other county assisted-living senior centers, such as Victory House in Palmer Park and Independence Court in Hyattsville. After hearing Anthony’s story, she said she ‘‘took it to heart” and made sure she attended the meeting.

‘‘I’m available if anyone requests a program,” Watkins said. ‘‘I also call around to set up programs as I go along. I love what I do, and it’s a good thing reaching the senior community and making them feel comfortable in the county.”

Minnie Jones, a St. Paul’s resident for more than four years, said other than the troubles she had with the elevator, she has no major safety issues with the facility, but that she found the information helpful. The elevator had previously worked intermittently.

‘‘We got a lot of fire safety tips that we hadn’t had before,” Jones said. ‘‘They talked about the smoke detectors, the carbon monoxide protection and the escape plan. It was quite a bit. Really it was a very successful meeting.”

E-mail Natalie McGill at nmcgill@gazette.net.