PALM HARBOR — Two days after an 81-year-old Largo man was found more than 150 miles away from home, Florida lawmakers and senior groups called for the creation of a statewide notification system to help find missing Alzheimer's patients.
State Reps. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin, and Kurt Kelly, R-Ocala, announced Tuesday plans to introduce a bill to the Florida Legislature that would set up a Silver Alert program.
It would send out an alarm similar to the Amber Alert, which is used to help find missing children. But the Silver Alert would be for people with Alzheimer's and dementia-related illnesses.
The news was announced at a press conference two days after Charles Oliphant drove away from his Largo home in his blue 1999 Chrysler Town & Country van. Florida Highway patrol troopers found Oliphant in the eastbound lane of Alligator Alley near Fort Myers.
In April, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, filed a bill in Congress for federal funding of state alert systems.
Gloria Smith, president of the local Alzheimer's Association chapter, said the bill will bring attention to an issue that can overwhelm families.
"Wandering is not predictable," she said. "You can't wait for it to happen."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 300,000 Floridians with the disease will wander away. Wanderers often get disoriented and most are found within 5 miles. Of those not found within 24 hours, half will be seriously injured or die.
Belleair resident Mary Lallucci said a Silver Alert could have helped save her mother, Mary Zelter, who was found in the Intracoastal Waterway a week after wandering away from a local supermarket.
"I was amazed that Florida didn't have this program with the number of senior citizens living here," Lallucci said.
Lallucci said her family could only file a missing person report. She said she was frustrated with the lack of options.
"I just don't want other families to go through that," she said.
Bilirakis, who cites Lallucci's story as inspiration, said he hopes to have his bill signed into law as early as the end of the year.
"It seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes in Washington no-brainers don't get passed," Bilirakis said.
The bill calls for grants of at least $100,000 for states to establish and maintain programs. North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Colorado and Michigan already have systems in place.
Jackie Alexander can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.