Community program saves the life of Paradise Valley woman

Confused and in pain, 87-year-old Mary Miller laid half-unconscious on her tile floor in the Town of Paradise Valley for several hours one Friday morning in late August.

Living with her 6-year-old canine companion, Gil, Ms. Miller is an independent woman and mother, whose children and grandchildren live across the country.

After ringing her doorbell and placing several unanswered calls, two Paradise Valley police officers obtained a key to the residence from the neighborhood’s guard-post and entered the home.

While calling out to Ms. Miller, Sergeant Don Blume and Officer Steven McGhee found the unresponsive resident in her bathroom at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 25.

“She couldn’t move, couldn’t call for help,” said Officer McGhee in a Sept. 6 phone interview. “She didn’t know how long she had been there and had nausea and chest pain. It was great to see that we were able to be there for her when she needed us.”

Ms. Miller’s live saving is the first full-action response initiated through Paradise Valley Police Department’s relatively new program, You Are Not Alone. The program was started last January, through the efforts of resident Patricia Wagner.

The You Are Not Alone program — commonly referred to as YANA — is for Paradise Valley residents who live with limited family or contacts in the area.

“It could have been a lot worse, because she didn’t have anyone coming in,” Officer McGhee explained.

“She could have been laying there for days without aid, access to food, water, anything. I can’t project what could have happened and I’m happy we don’t have to go down that path. We were able to be there for her when she needed us.”

The YANA program has less than 20 participants, many of whom are women, and the police department is accepting new sign-ups.

(file photo)

A happy ending

Less than two weeks after her medical emergency, Ms. Miller was back at her home with Gil, and she had her children around her — one silver lining to the situation, she says.

After the police officers initiated an emergency response, she was transported to a local hospital. Because of the YANA program, her dog and residence was taken care of, and her family was contacted.

“I first resisted the program, and I would have to say that I feel there’s a good chance that I may not have survived that,” Ms. Miller said in a Sept. 5 interview. “And this young man, Steven McGhee, he was the one that they sent out to see if everything was OK, and he’s just a top quality person.”

Ms. Miller has only been a part of the YANA program for a month, and says she is very thankful she decided to join.

“There were a series of things that happened, that would have made this fall impossible,” she said of her initial resistance to joining the program. “You know, I don’t know what would have happened.”

“It’s an A+ program, and it’s well thought out. And these two ladies — your company is so nice, and I think older people respond well to that,” she said of the police volunteers.

“I would say that hopefully it will spread fast.”

Patricia Wagner, on left, with Judy Chervenak at the Paradise Valley police department. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Faces behind YANA

The program includes a pre-recorded scheduled daily wellness call, and a weekly visit by police department volunteers. When a YANA member receives their daily call, they can press different buttons for their current condition — 1 for OK, 3 for not OK.

Ms. Miller’s missed wellness call initiated the call to service the officers responded to. If she had been able to respond to the call, by hitting the 3 button on her phone an alarm within the police station would have gone off also.

“It’s a reassurance program,” Ms. Wagner explained in a Sept. 5 interview at the police station, 6433 E. Lincoln Drive.

If an officer or local neighbor thinks someone needs help, Ms. Wagner and police volunteer Judy Chervenak will go visit the person.

“We’ll go out and visit with them. We have a form, we tell them all about it,” Ms. Wagner said of her visits to potential YANA members. “We leave the form with them — we’ll go back the next week, and if they have any questions they can call Kevin or call us. If they’re interested we’ll sign them up and calls start the next day.”

Ms. Wagner says the only stipulation for the program is members must be a resident of the Town of Paradise Valley.

“You can live with your husband, or partner, or friend. If you think you need help, we will help them,” she said.

The two Paradise Valley women personally visit each YANA program member once a week, and forging friendships along the way.

“The ones I have seen and met, they’re all people who really truly want to remain independent. This is a gift for them, so to speak. They decide about it — do I really want someone to help me or not? Am I strong enough to do this? Yes I’m strong enough, and this is a program that will support that idea,” said Ms. Chervenak.

Many of the members are hesitant at first, the volunteers both said of the YANA program, including Ms. Miller.

“Once they start and we come visit every week, we become their friends and they look forward to us,” Ms. Wagner said.

After seeing how successful similar programs were within other agencies nationwide, she brought it to the local police department. It took some time, but the program was initiated this past year and they signed up their first member on Jan. 3.

“I do it because I like people, I like the residents and I think it’s good for the police department,” Ms. Wagner said.

The Paradise Valley Police Department is now accepting new YANA members and donations to expand the program, and upgrade the equipment used. For interested residents, contact Community Resource Officer Kevin Albert at KAlbert@ParadiseValleyAZ.gov, or 480-348-3597; or Patrol Officer Steven McGhee at smcghee@ParadiseValleyAZ.gov.

Editor’s Note: Mary Miller’s name has been changed for this article to protect her identity.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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