Government Police/Fire

‘CLASP’ Providing Safety Net to Vulnerable West Hartford Residents

The Community Life Safety and Support Program (CLASP) is designed to support the needs of residents with medical conditions or who need help accessing services, or even just to provide a weekly check-in call for reassurance.

By Ronni Newton

A collaboration between West Hartford’s public safety operations, social and leisure services departments, and the library is working to ensure that the town’s most vulnerable residents have the support they need during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

West Hartford Fire Department Capt. Jarrad Smith is heading up the town’s Community Life Safety and Support Program (CLASP). Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

“I want as many people who are vulnerable to stay home, to know that we’re here with the support,” said Capt. Jarrad Smith of the West Hartford Fire Department, who is leading the Community Life Safety and Support Program (CLASP) on behalf of the town.

Smith said it’s important that people who can’t go out to get their groceries – or are medically fragile and shouldn’t really be leaving the house – know that they can make a phone call and have someone help them find access to the resources they need.

The fire department already had a registry. Contact information for some residents with medical considerations such as being on oxygen or in a wheelchair, and some elderly residents without nearby family, is kept by public safety. During the October 2012 snowstorm and extended power outage, for example, public safety checked up on those on the list to ensure they had access to power for their vital devices or a space where they could keep warm, but there hasn’t been a large-scale emergency for many years.

Smith said the list was updated and some new names were added, but the goal now is to expand the registry even further, particularly as restrictions put in place by the COVID-19 pandemic begin to ease, but many older or medically fragile people will want to, or have to, continue to stay out of public spaces as much as possible.

There is no maximum to the number of people who can register with CLASP. There are about 265 registered currently, and Smith said he’d like to add at least 100 more.

“We can be their support network while the waters get testing, while we’re finding out what’s the new normal, what’s sustainable,” Smith said.

“We want our residents to know we are here to provide support today, tomorrow, and in the months ahead when we begin to ‘re-open,'” said Mayor Shari Cantor. “They don’t have to risk their health by venturing out to get everyday necessities when we have people who can help,” said Mayor Shari Cantor.

The primary goals of CLASP are to provide reassurance and emotional support during this stressful time, to ensure that residents are able to access food and medications, and to closely monitor those who are the highest risk of an adverse outcome from COVID-19.

CLASP is broken down into multiple teams, based on level of need, with a team leader for each – all of whom raised their hands to volunteer to help. There is no cost associated with the program.

When a resident calls to register with CLASP, Smith, as coordinator for the program, makes an initial determination of the group that would best serve that person’s needs.

CLASP is ideally suited to support people who fall into the following categories:

  • An older resident who lives alone and is looking for peace of mind.
  • A resident without a defined support system who has a complicated medical condition.
  • Any resident who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Residents with an ongoing need for services of any type.

Smith encourages anyone who feels they need the services of CLASP to call to register (860-561-6990 or 860-561-6991, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) or email him at [email protected]. Sign-up can also be done online here. Relatives can also make a referral of someone to be part of CLASP.

“The most important thing it provides is a safety net and emotional insurance,” Smith said. They are also problem solvers.

“As we bring more awareness to this valuable service, we are hearing from residents they didn’t know it existed and they say they have a friend who could benefit from the Community Life and Support Program, too. This is a great collaboration between our social services department, fire department and health department,” Cantor said.

Most residents (currently more than 100) are assigned to the Blue Team. Helen Rubino-Turco, director of Social Services and Leisure Services, heads the five-person team that includes the senior center directors and other town staff, who all serve on a voluntary basis. They call the residents, many of whom are elderly and live alone, weekly just to check in, and ensure their basic physical and social needs are being met.

Members of the Blue Team act as a “solutions center” and will assist residents with information they need to access resources and services.

“We’ve reached out to people who, because of the pandemic, had trouble connecting to services, like they can’t get to the food pantry because the bus routes have changed,” Rubino-Turco said.

“We just want to make sure no one is falling through the cracks,” Rubino-Turco said, even if it’s just checking up on them with a friendly voice on the other end of the phone. “We want to make sure people can access the services they need.”

The Orange Team is led by Social Services Manager Astrid Calderon, and includes professional social workers from the town. They are tasked with remaining in touch with the residents who have the most complex emotional needs, and also will serve as a point person to seek direct action when a gap in existing services is identified.

Residents with the highest risk and level of need are assigned to the Red Team, which is overseen by the West Hartford Fire Department. More than 50 residents are on that team currently, and Smith said most are over 65, and may be on oxygen or have other breathing or medical complications or an identified immune deficiency.

Representatives of the Red Team are able to provide a higher level of medical support, such as helping procure supplies for home diabetes testing or oxygen administration. They can also inquire directly – by phone or in person – about the residents’ well being and can act as needed when there is a perceived life threat.

Smith said that some of the tasks members of the Red Team have performed include hooking up oxygen, helping install a phone for someone with a visual problem, and testing a Life Alert system. One team member even assisted an elderly resident who had a 40-pound bag of dog food delivered but was struggling to carry it up the stairs.

The Red Team members are fully equipped with the personal protection equipment (PPE) they currently need to for direct contact, and will also be a point of contact for residents who have been discharged from the hospital and are continuing to recover from COVID-19 at home.

CLASP team members do not have relationships with residents’ physicians, but rather are intended to be another point of contact in the community who cares about their well-being.

CLASP is also not involved in contact tracing or enforcement. “That’s the Health District,” Smith said.

“If you are of any age, and you need support, I’m the first contact you make,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter what color [team] you think you are.”

No one could have anticipated the impact of the coronavirus, and Smith said that when he moved into the position last summer leading the fire department’s training efforts, he never thought he would be in the position of spearheading CLASP.

No community, none of the first responders who are alive today, have ever dealt with something like COVID-19. There has not been a pandemic like this for many generations, Smith said.

“Assistant Chief O’Callaghan had asked in a training session: ‘Are we leaning forward into the problems we are going to face?'” Smith said. Caring for those who are sick is only one element of the response.

“I very quickly realized that the whole shutdown of society really rose to the top,” Smith said. “If networks dry up, these folks are going to venture out and put themselves at risk. They’re going to go out or end up with some crisis and then we’re going to be interacting with them but it won’t be on their terms,” he said.

“When we gave it an honest assessment, we had to be proactive,” said Smith.

Fire Department Chief Greg Priest and Town Manager Matt were immediately supportive, and said that something like CLASP was what the town really needs to do to drive home the spirit of customer service, Smith said. “They were very passionate that no people should fall through the cracks. I was struck by their unwavering support.”

“I’m thrilled to see various departments in the town organizing to meet the needs of our citizens in unusual times,” Priest said. “The folks working on the team are kind, caring, and genuinely interested in helping and enjoy the opportunity to speak to our residents. I hope that our residents feel supported and reach out to connect with our CLASP teams.”

While members of the Red Team will sometimes solve a problem for residents in person, CLASP isn’t a service that goes grocery shopping for people or picks up their prescriptions. But they will make sure the residents know how to find those resources, whether it is a group like WeHa At Your Service – an initiative by West Hartford high schoolers to assist the elderly with grocery shopping and other tasks – someone in the town’s Social Services Department, or an outside resource.

Rubino-Turco also urged residents to think about their neighbors who might be homebound. While they may not be able to visit them in person right now, they can offer to pick up items at the store or assist in other ways.

“If we all work together we can be greater than the sum of our parts,” Smith said. Part of that teamwork, Smith said, is providing a net to ensure that just because society has “opened up,” elderly residents don’t have to expose themselves but can find the assistance they need.

“The development [of CLASP] is emblematic of the way that I see our colleagues solving problems – seeking solutions to potential problems, being proactive and creative,” Rubino-Turco said. “There is an amazing team of town employees who have volunteered to be part of this.”

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