Check on the neighbors, advises agency
A Baldwin Borough man rescued from the cold of his half-collapsed bedroom is among thousands in Allegheny County who qualify for — and often receive — life-preserving help through community groups, volunteers, mail carriers and the Area Agency on Aging, officials said on Friday.
Emergency workers hauled William “Pete” Trosene Jr. from his Curry Road home when he was found dehydrated and hypothermic after what officials believe were two or three days beneath debris. Trosene, 77, a former golf cart mechanic, was carried out on plywood after he called 911 that morning.
At least two-thirds of the back of the ranch-style home, including part of the roof, had caved in from years of neglect, said neighbors who watched and worried for two decades or more, wondering whether to intervene.
Hospitalized at UPMC Mercy, Trosene's condition has improved from critical to serious, doctors said.
“If you see a property next door or in your neighborhood that's in disrepair, you do the same thing, whether that person is 17 or 70: Call the municipality, the building manager, the landlord, whatever. You report it,” said Mildred Morrison, administrator with the Area Agency on Aging, a division of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.
The 2010 census shows 407,000 residents 65 and older live in the Pittsburgh area, a slight decline from 10 years before. Of those, about 32 percent live alone.
“Many, many people manage fine on their own, but for an elderly neighbor presumed to be in a difficult situation, we encourage people to call us directly, with or without anonymity,” Morrison said. “Ninety percent of the time, we go out to visit the person that same day.”
Allegheny County has one of the older populations in the country, said Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research.
“Not only are they older, a lot of people living in those houses have been there a really long time,” said Briem, citing a census question that asks how long people have lived in their home. Pittsburgh and the surrounding region consistently rank among the nation's highest, he said.
“We have very old housing stock,” he said. “No one did a lot of building in the last 20 or 30 years, so you've got incredibly old homeowners living in incredibly old homes. Someone has to look out for them.”
Postal carriers often take it upon themselves to check on or report to a supervisor if they notice mail piling up or little to no activity on a previously well-kept property, said Tad Kelley, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Pittsburgh. It's not a formal policy, he said, but “something done as a matter of course.”
If a younger family member who lives far away is worried, Kelley said, carriers will keep an eye on mom or dad. Postal workers find individuals in trouble more often than anyone would like, he said.
Concern calls to the Agency on Aging often lead to investigations, either by phone or home visits, Morrison said. In 2010-11, the agency made 895 initial visits. In 2011-12, workers made 977. Morrison said last year they reported 1,023.
She estimated more than 500 workers, volunteers and health professionals visit about 7,000 Allegheny County residents at least once every two weeks, though many receive daily help through meal and medical assistance. Only about 120 of those become emergency situations such as that of Trosene.
Knowing whether to report a possible problem is tough, Morrison said.
“It's not something you do because of one incident on one day,” she said. “If the person is not seen or is not functioning well for weeks or months at a time, you call. If you as a neighbor attempt to speak to the person and he or she doesn't respond, you call.
“It's always better to be prudent, better to try,” she said.
“For an older person in trouble, you could be saving their life.”
Megan Harris is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.