File Of Life, Key Box Are Critical Health Aids For Seniors

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Aging , Fire , council on aging , Senior issues

Having a File of Life on the refrigerator door can help rescue personnel provide the right treatment as soon as possible. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

Imagine this: EMTs arrive at a resident’s home only to be locked outside even as they can see the resident lying on the floor helpless inside the house.

That’s not a situation that anyone wants to contemplate. But putting into place two simple elements—a key box to allow the fire department to enter and the File of Life form to bring the EMS crew up to speed on the senior’s health – can save lives.

Let’s say a senior wearing a medical alert or alarm button has fallen on the floor. The fire department comes over and lets itself in with the key box.

“We pick them up, and in 10-to-15 minutes it’s over,” says Chatham’s EMS coordinator Mark Heller.

The Chatham fire department works with two companies that provide specialized key boxes. The first is the Supra S-5 Key Safe which costs about $58 and is available from Easton Electronics in Canton. The Knox Key Box is available for about $150 from the Knox Company. The fire department will complete the order form to assure that the correct box is ordered and is keyed for Chatham. It will then mount the box four-to-five feet high next to an entry door.

“All key boxes in Chatham have the same key—we’re the only ones who have it,” Heller says. “The boxes are extremely secure. There’s no copying of the key.” Inside the lock box is an entry key for the house itself. When the box is used on an apartment or commercial building, also inside would be keys to operate fire alarms, emergency gates, elevators and sprinklers.

“The lock box is paramount,” Heller says. “It allows us to come into your house safely. Breaking in causes damage.”

Now, let’s say the fire department comes over and the senior is either unconscious or unable to relay medical information. This is where the File of Life on the refrigerator comes in.

“This is a common tool used by EMS professionals,” Heller says. “It’s placed in the home by the patient. It’s a small card with someone’s personal and health information.” That information includes the patient’s name, address, date of birth, emergency contact, list of medications and medical history.

“If they’re unconscious then we can get all the information,” Heller says. “It’s lifesaving. Sometimes no other information is available. If we know they’re diabetic, have high blood pressure, a heart disorder, they can start to get better before they get to the hospital.”

The File of Life should be updated every six months or more often, if changes are made.

The File of Life paper slips into a small jacket with a magnet and is hung on the refrigerator. It can be obtained at the Chatham Fire Department at 135 Depot Rd. For more information call the fire department at 508-945-2324.

In Harwich the council on aging at the community center on Oak Street has copies of the File of Life. Council on Aging Director Judi Wilson also encourages seniors to fill one out and hang it on their refrigerator.

“It’s about saving precious minutes in an emergency,” she says.

The Harwich Fire Department responds to 4,200 calls a year, and the majority are calls for emergency medical services, according to the department’s website. The four department ambulances are equipped with advanced life support as well as over 40 types of medication, intubation equipment, pediatric and newborn supplies and advanced first aid. So if, when a senior is placed in the ambulance, the EMTs have a medical history and knowledge of a patient’s medications, that patient will be at a great advantage.

“I find it’s really important,” Wilson says. She adds that EMTs are “well-trained to look for” the File of Life.

Harwich Fire Department EMS Officer Robert Stevens suggests that people include with their File of Life two other forms that represent their wishes. They are the Comfort Care form and the MOLST (Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) form. These can be obtained from primary care physicians. He also advises that seniors, when traveling, bring duplicates of their File of Life and other forms with them in case they become ill away from home.

“We’re all aging everyday,” Wilson says. “The goal is to age in place in the community, and you have to do that planfully.” The File of Life and the key lock box are two ways to plan and make everyone safer. For more information call the Harwich Council on Aging at 508-430-7550.

In Orleans, the File of Life is available through the council on aging on Rock Harbor Road. The Orleans Fire Department suggests the file be filled in with pencil, so that it can be easily updated. Dosages of medications should be listed as well as the medications themselves. And don’t forget to list over-the-counter medications such as vitamins, herbal supplements and aspirin. It is also useful to list allergies such as to bee stings and food allergies.