Nursing home installs new program to help track patients who wander off

By Abby Morris

Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   An Elizabethton nursing home facility recently became the first of its kind in the Tri-Cities area to install a new patient tracking system for patients.
   Life Care Center of Elizabethton installed the CARETRAK system at its facility on Thursday. "The program is a radio transmitter bracelet that Alzheimer's and Down Syndrome patients wear, mostly adult patients who have a tendency to wander," said Ben Barrick, who works with the CARETRAK program in Tennessee. "A lot of times when a patient gets out they will unknowingly hide because they get scared."
   The patient wears the transmitter, which is like a watch, and the facility has a locator Barrick said. The bracelet worn by the patients emits a constant electronic signal which has its own personalized frequency. If a patient is missing, staff members at the facility can use the locator to find the patient. "The locator picks up on the signal and as you get closer, the signal gets stronger," Barrick said. "Each transmitter has its own frequency. That frequency is basically an identification number for that patient."
   Once the patient is discovered missing, personnel at the nursing home will conduct a quick check of the facility and grounds to see if the patient can be found. If the patient does not turn up, staff members notify the CARETRAK response team and begin to search themselves by using the facility's locator. The bracelet transmitter also serves as a link to medical information as well as the patient's name and a recent photograph to aid responders in locating the patient.
   The CARETRAK program in northeast Tennessee is being administered by Netstar Air Rescue, Barrick said. CARETRAK is a national program which is endorsed by the United States Alzheimer's Association, both nationally and by the local chapter, Barrick said. According to Barrick, the program has a national average time of eight to 12 minutes to locate a missing patient.
   Barrick said one of the reasons that he worked to get the CARETRAK program started in Tennessee is because he has had a family member who could have benefited from this type of service. "My grandmother was in a locked-down Alzheimer's facility and she got out," he said, adding that when she was found, she was wandering near a major roadway in Johnson City.
   Patient care was one of the main reasons Life Care Center of Elizabethton decided to work with the CARETRAK program, according to Sherry Kozakowski, director of nursing at the facility. "If a resident gets out, it will help us locate them much quicker," she said. "It will insure the safety of our residents."
   Installing the system was something the facility, which has a lot of Alzheimer's patients, had been discussing since the first of the year, according to Kozakowski.