By MATT WALTERS
Capital News Service
LANSING – A new Senate proposal could help bring missing seniors home more quickly.
The bill would require law enforcement agencies to issue a public alert when a person 60 or older is reported missing and is believed to be incapable of returning home on his or her own.
Similar legislation is already in place in 27 states, including Indiana and Illinois.
The motivation behind the bill is to improve the safety of seniors throughout the state, said Katie Carey, press secretary for Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, the main sponsor.
“This legislation would make sure immediate action is taken when a senior goes missing,” Carey said, adding that it would expedite the process of creating a missing person report in a way similar to Amber Alerts for missing children.
“It would create an alert that would be immediately given to television and radio stations in the event of a missing senior. This would help the community act more quickly to bring that person home safely,” Carey said.
She said the bill was drafted after legislators heard the story of Estelle Mozelle Pierce, who died after wandering away from her Southwest Detroit home in 2005.
Jennie Stinson, of Ann Arbor, has advocated “Silver Alert” legislation since her father, Norris Lee, died last September.
On Sept. 3, the 85-year-old Lee went missing after his wife dropped him off at the Birmingham Community Center. His body was found two weeks later in a wooded area not far from the center, where he was last seen.
Stinson said the medical examiner believed he died the evening of his disappearance or early the next morning.
According to Stinson, her father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009.
“That day was like every other Friday since he had been diagnosed,” Stinson said.
She said that at the time, her father showed few signs of the disease, which made his disappearance impossible to predict.
“He was still in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, as far as we or his doctor could tell. He could even name the current Detroit Tigers’ line-up. The only thing he really had trouble with was time and day,” Stinson said.
Stinson said that her mother contacted Birmingham police after she went to pick him up and couldn’t find him. By that time, Lee hadn’t been seen for two hours.
Stinson said that because of the two-hour time gap, a Silver Alert may not have saved her father’s life but said it would have helped in the search effort.
“We needed to talk to everyone we could but it was impossible to find everyone who may have seen him. Someone must have seen him but we had no way to get the word out for people to be aware of his disappearance,” Stinson said.
She said a Silver Alert may have also allowed her father’s body to be found sooner and avoided the need to search as far away as Detroit.
“A Silver Alert may not have been useful in finding my father alive but maybe someone would have seen him by the river sooner than two weeks later,” Stinson said.
She said that she supports the proposed bill because it could help other families avoid a similar tragedy.
“To have a positive outcome, the whole community needs to be on the lookout for a missing person, not just the person’s family and police. If this helps just one family not go through what we did, it’ll be worth it,” Stinson said.
Carrie Collins-Fadell, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Michigan in Southfield, said the Silver Alerts would help keep seniors safe, particularly those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
According to Collins-Fadell, six out of every 10 people with dementia will wander away, sometimes with fatal consequences.
“This is a large amount of people, considering there are more than 230,000 individuals in Michigan who suffer from the disease,” Collins-Fadell said.
Collins-Fadell said that because Alzheimer’s affects only the mind, it can be difficult to tell if someone who has the disease needs help.
“The individual can look healthy as they are wandering on foot or in a car. People who come in contact with them might not even know they need help,” Collins-Fadell said.
She said that the proposed legislation would be beneficial to family caregivers who live with Alzheimer’s patients at their home, many of whom are unpaid.
“These caregivers represent a huge cost savings to the state Medicaid system. This legislation is one way to help them and make their jobs easier,” Collins-Fadell said.
The bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its co-sponsors are Sens. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit; Steven Bieda, D-Warren; Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; John Gleason, D-Flushing; Glenn Anderson, D-Westland; Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor; Virgil Smith, D-Detroit; and Morris Hood III, D-Detroit.
A similar bill is pending in the House Family, Children and Seniors Committee. Its sponsors include Reps. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing; Joan Bauer, D-Lansing; Lesia Liss, D-Warren; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon; and Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.