Alabama agencies searching for more funding for Project Lifesaver

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT)-- Project Lifesaver International is an organization at work across the world, providing tracking technology to be used in the search for those who are prone to wandering. That may include those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, and autism, but also applies to people with other cognitive disorders.

WHNT News 19 has reported on its benefits to families in North Alabama over the years.

A transmitter bracelet, receiver, and law enforcement work together to find people who may be missing. Many local agencies hold fundraisers to support the program. There are criteria to qualify a person for enrollment into Project Lifesaver, and if you call your local sheriff's office you can get more information about the program.

The Project Lifesaver programs are also growing in our area.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Office started Project Lifesaver around 2 years ago, and has 5 clients using its tracking bracelet. According to Chief Deputy Rocky Harnen, they've never had to turn someone away who qualified for the project, and they haven't had to use it to find someone yet. But they know when they need to, they will have the tools to do the job.

"We have 6 or 7 guys who are trained to track the bracelets," said Harnen. "I don't care how long it is-- ten minutes, that seems like a lifetime when you're looking for that loved one."

Over in Morgan County, Sheriff Ana Franklin says their program has recently been "revamped" to help even more people.

There are 8 enrolled in their Project Lifesaver program at this moment, she said. Sheriff Franklin said Deputy Brian Goodwin now goes to check batteries in people's bracelets to make sure they are always operational, and through funding from the Pilot Club of Decatur, they now have new receivers. They have also changed the criteria for who can enroll into the program to make it more inclusive. Franklin said ALEA helps a lot, as their Aviation Unit has receivers programmed through the whole state and holding practices with law enforcement agencies to sharpen their search skills.

In Madison County, Lieutenant Donald Shaw said 43 people are enrolled in Project Lifesaver.

"We are always available to add more people," he said.

The Madison County Sheriff's Office has requested a US Department of Justice Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patients Assistance Program grant to buy another receiver. This, said Lt. Shaw, will help add more people to the program. He said the agency has used the bracelets to locate missing people, and he knows it works. The Pilot Club of Huntsville is instrumental in helping the sheriff's office fund the project.

With all of this enthusiasm from local deputies and supporting clubs, state agencies are taking notice. Neal Morrison, Director of the Alabama Department of Senior Services, said he wants to partner with ALEA to provide more resources for Project Lifesaver in Alabama. He also wants to screen seniors for early stages of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease in an effort to be proactive.

Morrison told WHNT News 19 he is trying to find state dollars to fund bracelets to get them to more people who may need them. He said his agency's budget has been cut 2.5%, but he is still committed to finding resources.

"I want to shift some money around," he said, sharing that he's already found $20,000 to put toward the goal. He's after more. "We need to get creative helping to find more private donations, through nonprofits or corporations, but also trying to use money we already have," he said.

Morrison believes that these bracelets can give families peace of mind, but also reduce Medicaid costs. He said as these bracelets help people find their loved ones, less people will need treatment after being lost for long periods of time or move into long-term care facilities early. Instead, they will stay with their families longer because there are less risks they will wander and not be found.

"The Governor is 100% behind this project," Morrison commented.

He said there isn't state money designated to Project Lifesaver right now, and he's hoping these recent efforts can change that and help educate more people that these resources are available.

"We've been able to pay for each person's bracelet ourselves," said Chief Deputy Harnen, but if we ever have a need, obviously we'd like to be able to count on some funding from the state to help us out." At $300 a bracelet, he said, "These things are not cheap."