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Leadership Kitsap group wants senior citizens to ‘hang on’

When a senior citizen takes a spill, the results can be detrimental.

A group of seven Leadership Kitsap students are doing their part to prevent that from happening with a community volunteer project they call “Hang On Kitsap.”

To help reduce injuries to seniors caused by falls, the group has partnered with local businesses and organizations to install grab bars outside the showers and baths of local homeowners. Installation is expected to take place March 25 and 26 and April 22 and 23. Qualifying participants for the project must be 65 years old or older and Medicaid-eligible.

“There’s still room for more,” said Leadership Kitsap member Greg Platz who also is a firefighter with Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue.

Lowe’s home improvement store in Bremerton is donating up to 100 grab bars, worth about $3,000, as well as the labor for the project.

“Lowe’s tries to be community oriented throughout the whole company every year,” said Jessica Nash, sales manager for the Bremerton store. “Every year we’re given a budget to do a community service project. We thought this would be a great opportunity.”

About 15 to 20 employees from throughout different departments in the store are volunteering their time to do the installations.

“We’re glad to be participating in something like this,” Nash said.

Every year Leadership Kitsap students are divided into groups and tasked with creating a project to benefit the local community. The Hang On Kitsap group — made up of Platz, Scott Daniels, Jennifer Hayes, Sandy Scott, Randy Corbell, Ken Bagwell and Barb Santos — brainstormed the idea after initially struggling with coming up with a project.

“We had a difficult time coming up with an issue — when the subject of seniors came up,” Platz said.

Having been with CKFR for the past eight years, he is familiar with the obstacles that seniors can sometimes face.

“I suggested maybe something to do with wheelchairs, walkers or grab bars,” he said. “I had just been on a call where a lady had fallen in her bathroom and she was home alone.”

The group took the idea of grab bars and decided to run with it. Partnering with several organizations including the Kitsap County Division of Aging and Long Term Care, the Kitsap County Health District and all of the local fire agencies, the group decided the project should include additional safety information as well.

Participants not only will be given resource information on fall prevention, but the Kitsap County International Association of Firefighters Local 2819 is volunteering professional firefighters from throughout the county to check smoke alarms and install additional units if needed.

“We have lots of different people helping us on this project,” Platz said.

As the Hang On Kitsap group researched the importance of grab bars, they realized just how beneficial are.

More than one-third of our elderly citizens ages 65 years and older fall each year, resulting in serious injury, hospitalization and death, according to the group.

“It can be the downhill slide for them,” Platz said. “It can be the start of losing their independence.”

Throughout his career, Platz has seen a number of injuries which seniors have suffered and many times it’s a broken hip or a serious head laceration.

“It’s scary and stressful for them and their family,” he said. “(Hang On Kitsap) really wants to prevent that from happening.”

He adds that the project is about more than promoting grab bars.

“We just want to get the message out that fall prevention is really important,” he said. “Our whole team has rallied around the cause ... We’re just glad we’re going to be able to get out and help some of our older people in Kitsap County. They deserve it.”

Eligible seniors interested in having free grab bars installed in their home should call the Kitsap County Health District at (360) 337-5235 to make an appointment.

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