Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pennsylvania to Create Alert System for Missing Persons at Special Risk

On November 23rd Governor Rendell signed Senate Bill 976 into law (Act 126 of 2010). The new law will establish a “Missing Endangered Person Advisory System” (MEPAS) to provide notification and enlist public and law enforcement help in locating missing persons who are at special risk because of age, illness or disability.The law requires the State Police to establish and maintain the system.
This brings Pennsylvania into alignment with the growing number of states that have enacted so-called “Silver Alert” programs to broadcast information about missing persons - especially seniors with Alzheimer's Disease, dementia or other mental disabilities – and to assist in their return. Pennsylvania’s existing “Amber Alert” system seeks to find abducted children. The MEPAS system, which was passed as an amendment to the Amber Alert law, will apply to seniors with Alzheimer’s and any other “missing persons who are at special risk of harm or injury.”
SB 976 was initially introduced by State Senator Michael O’Pake of Reading who said proposal came about because the success of the Amber Alert system for missing children showed the need for having similar programs for other vulnerable groups. See: “Bill to locate missing, endangered persons passes.”
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 6 in 10 dementia sufferers wander at some point during their illness. If not found within 24 hours, up to half of wandering seniors with dementia suffer serious injury or death. But, searching for them can raise complications unlike those encountered with a lost or abducted child since an individual with dementia may be paranoid and actively seek to avoid detection. Thus, the MEPAS system will be a separate system distinct from Amber Alerts.  
While the implementation of a Silver Alert system in Pennsylvania will seem like a “no-brainer” to most, there are critics who raise concerns about both cost and the dilutive effect of adding to the number of alerts.  In New York, Governor George Paraki vetoes Silver Alert legislation in 2003  because he felt it would weaken the Amber Alert system by making alerts too common. Nevertheless, a number of cities in New York State reacted to the Governor’s veto by enacting their own systems.

For tips on coping with wandering and other safety issues related to dementia and Alzheimer's readers can visit the Alzheimer's Association Safety Center or call the Association's 24 hour Helpline at 1.800.272.3900.

You might also be interested in the New York Times article "More with Dementia Wander from Home."

*Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation

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