By Siela A. Bynoe
A first-of-its-kind nationwide study by the Alzheimer’s Association revealed that approximately one-eighth of the senior citizens residing in Nassau County are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. This distressing revelation illustrates that our county is among the localities most heavily impacted by a horrific and heartbreaking disease that robs its victims of their memory and cognition. I have witnessed firsthand the heartbreak and devastation that cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease brings to our community.
In November 2021, Chesnel Veillard, a resident of New Cassel who suffered from dementia, wandered from his home. I first learned of Mr. Veillard’s disappearance and condition when his daughter, Sendy, who previously worked as an intern in my office, called to request assistance in locating him. Tragically, he perished after he wandered onto the railroad tracks and was struck by a train. His death was devastating to his family, his loved ones, and his neighbors in New Cassel. As we approach two years since his untimely passing, I remain as convinced as ever that his death was preventable.
A key stated purpose of the Alzheimer’s Association study was to provide resources and data to local municipalities that can guide them in how they apportion and allocate resources toward optimally serving and protecting their constituents. The fact that approximately 31,300 Nassau seniors have been identified as suffering with Alzheimer’s disease must be a clarion call for local leaders to marshal the necessary resources to aid this sizable – and likely growing – population of at-risk adults.
Nassau County currently utilizes Project Lifesaver in conjunction with its Silver Alert System to help safely return cognitively impaired individuals who have wandered away from caregivers. This internationally regarded search and rescue program is a powerful tool for protecting the safety and welfare of cognitively impaired individuals. However, under the current County program, participants must pay $325 to enroll, and that can make access to this potentially life-saving resource cost-prohibitive for working-class families.
To address this gap, I authored and sponsored legislation, which was introduced in January 2022 and refined and re-filed later that year in September, to create the Chesnel Veillard Program – an initiative in which the County would fund cost-free access to Project Lifesaver for clinically eligible individuals and families whose household income is less than $76,050/year.
To maximize the benefits of the Project Lifesaver technology, anyone who enrolls in the Chesnel Veillard Program would also be entered into the County’s Return Every Adult and Child Home (REACH) registry – a database of children and adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other conditions that potentially limit their ability to communicate. The Veillard program is designed to serve income-eligible individuals who do not currently live in a nursing home, long-term care facility, Alzheimer’s special care unit, or similar facility that would have programs in place as a function of its operation to protect cognitively vulnerable residents.
Increasing the use of Project Lifesaver will help law enforcement and first responders more quickly locate cognitively vulnerable individuals who wander – an outcome that simultaneously saves taxpayer resources and provides families with the peace of mind they need. Not only would the Chesnel Veillard program proactively aid in safeguarding vulnerable Nassau residents, its implementation would be the embodiment of the wise stewardship of municipal resources.
As of this writing, the measure has not been brought to the floor by the Legislative Majority for a public hearing or vote. This delay in acting upon a cost-effective, common-sense proposal to protect our most vulnerable citizens is truly regrettable. Yet, I remain hopeful that the findings of the Alzheimer’s Association’s rigorous nationwide study will spur my colleagues into action so that we can adopt this measure during the month of September, which coincidentally happens to coincide with World Alzheimer’s Month.
The crisis of Alzheimer’s disease is already here in Nassau County, and I anticipate that the number of our residents suffering from this and other debilitating cognitive ailments will only grow in the coming years. Now is the time to take decisive, proactive action so that we can bring comfort to those who are already suffering and prepare ourselves to respond to future needs.