As the Arctic air gripped Geauga County this past month, one program offered through the Geauga County Department on Aging made Robert Debevits a popular guy.

As the department’s home safety coordinator, Mr. Debevits is there to ensure that senior citizens are not left out in the cold when it comes to safely staying in their homes.

Last week, Mr. Debevits was kept busy as about a dozen calls came in in about a day and a half for frozen water pipes in seniors’ homes. “I’m a popular guy,” Mr. Debevits said.

The program for those registered with the department is designed to provide assistance in an effort to preserve the health and safety of seniors and enable them to function with greater independence in their homes.

The majority of the calls Mr. Debevits handled last week were in the county’s mobile home parks. The homes have no foundations to protect water pipes and have no insulation to protect pipes in the freezing temperatures, he said.

Mr. Debevits said the department relies on about seven or eight private contractors who handle the calls and go out to restore a habitable home.

Residents, he said, are responsible for paying for the materials, while the county pays for the labor under the program. Mr. Debevits said those contractors have shown a giving nature when it comes to charging labor. A bill to seniors under this program often amounts to $100 or less – the cost a contractor may charge a typical customer for just coming to the house.  “They (contractors) do a very, very reasonable rate,” he said of those taking part in the program.

For those whose finances may present a challenge just to pay the labor, he said, United Way Geauga often comes to the rescue with a discretionary fund that will assist seniors with that end of the bill, he said.

Mr. Debevits emphasized that the program is not an emergency service and seniors may have to wait to get a contractor to the home. The service is offered on a first come-first served basis because of the limited number of contractors available. But, he said, most residents are familiar with what can be expected after operating the program for 20 years.

“People can’t live without water or heat so we’re going to be there if they need us,” Mr. Debevits said.

So far, Mr. Debevits said, the amount of snow or keeping homes heated has not been a problem.

But, he said, that could easily change.

He said furnaces, particularly those older than two decades, could begin seeing problems after the temperatures moderate. He said issues often arise when there is a thaw and furnaces kick back on.  “That seems to be the magic number, anything that is over 20 years old.”

The past couple winters have offered a reprieve in terms of freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls, but this winter seems to be making up for lost time with temperatures 20 degrees below the average and snowfalls that come almost daily.

The program doesn’t end with the coming of spring, he said.

It is there to help seniors retain their independence all year long, ready for chores, such as ADA adaptations for homes or with their air conditioning units.

“The program is just that – about safety,” Mr. Debevits said.

For those seeking more information about the program, they are asked to call the department at 440-279-2135, Monday through Friday.

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