Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Leslie Bridgers email@example.com
In the next six months, as many as 15,000 cars in Cumberland County could be sporting round yellow stickers on their back windshields, indicating that information about the driver's medical history can be found inside.
The Yellow Dot program, which started in Connecticut a decade ago, has been used in several states and is about to come to Maine.
The purpose is to help emergency responders treat accident victims who are incapacitated and can't provide information about their medical conditions or the medication they're taking.
Although in other states the program has been geared toward senior citizens, the people behind the program in Maine say it's something that can benefit people of all ages.
Gorham police Officer Ted Hatch became aware of the program last year after USA Today published an article about its growing popularity, particularly in Alabama.
After getting support from the Gorham-Westbrook Triad -- a coalition of senior citizens, law enforcement officers and community service agencies -- Hatch sought more information from Alabama's program coordinator.
"We were going to do it in Gorham, then Gorham and Westbrook," said Hatch. A committee of Triad members eventually decided to take the pilot countywide, with plans to start spreading it statewide in a year.
The town of Gorham allocated $18,000 this year to get the program running. That, along with donations from businesses, covered the cost of printing 15,000 packets, which are expected to be handed out over six months, and equipping 14 locations in Cumberland County with cameras and printers for photos of people who register at the kickoff on Saturday.
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers at police and fire stations, Walmart stores and Hadlock Field in Portland will hand out the first decals and help people fill out the information to put in their glove compartments.
After that, people will be able to register at the dozen ongoing enrollment locations in the county. Participation in the program will free.
The recommendation is to keep information about anyone who regularly uses the vehicle -- including emergency contacts, medical conditions, medications, allergies and a photo -- in one place.
Dyana Rossignol, who is involved with Triad through her job at In-Home Senior Services in Gorham, immediately thought it would be something that moms like her should have, to ensure that the right person would be called to get her kids if she were severely hurt in an accident and they were in the car.
She also considered the value of the program for her family member who is on insulin and a friend who takes Coumadin.
"All families could benefit from it," said Rossignol, who is on the Triad's steering committee for the program.
Samantha Cole, chief of the Lebanon Rescue Department, said that when patients are unresponsive, first responders immediately check their cellphones for emergency contacts.
Knowing someone's medical information lets them know how to treat the patient, who might be unresponsive because of a heart problem, not because of accident injuries.
The Yellow Dot program is another, and potentially quicker, way to access that information, she said.
Hatch noted that people often lock their cellphones and, in a bad crash, responders may not able to retrieve a wallet from a pocket.
He said the information for the Yellow Dot program will not be entered into a database, and won't go beyond the glove compartment.
Also, he said, the forms will not ask for information about pain medication, stimulants or depressants -- only life-saving drugs.
"That way, people are not targets for criminal activity," he said.
Hatch couldn't say how often the program could save lives, but said the total number isn't important to him.
"If this program saves even one life, I don't care how much energy we put into it," he said. "It should be worth it to every one of us."
For more information about the Yellow Dot program and how to enroll, visit www.yellowdotme.org.