When 84-year-old Huntley resident Bodil Becker wandered away from home and was found dead in the snow earlier this month, the McHenry County Sheriff's Office sent a news release urging residents to utilize Care Trak, a monitoring system used to locate missing people.
Care Trak is designed to locate individuals with dementia, Alzheimer's, and others who are prone to wandering. But currently only six McHenry County residents use the device, which is likely due to Care Trak's limited advertising in the county and its strict eligibility requirements, according to McHenry County Sheriff's Deputy Aime Knop.
In fact, the requirements to obtain Care Trak are so exclusive that Becker herself wasn't even eligible for the device, Knop said.
To utilize Care Trak an individual must have a medically confirmed diagnosis, such as autism or dementia, have difficulties with communication, have a history or likelihood of wandering, and be under 24-hour supervised care.
The 24-hour care is the most restrictive requirement, Knop said, but it is in place to give law enforcement the best chance at finding the individual. Care Trak uses a radio frequency that is effective at finding the missing person only up to one mile.
"Somebody who is home alone for eight hours a day … they could have traveled much farther than one or two miles," she said. "That's why Care Trak instituted that requirement."
Care Trak sets the requirements, which are enforced by the McHenry County Mental Health Board. Families have to apply to the mental health board before their loved one can receive the device.
Cathy Garrey, mental health board compliance and quality assurance manager, acknowledged the issues that have kept Care Trak's usage down in the county.
"We probably could do a much better job of marketing," she said. "But many people just don't meet the requirements to be in the program."
Garrey said the office doesn't get a lot of applications for Care Trak, but she has had to turn people away because of the requirements.
"What I've run into so far with pending applicants is the 24-hour continuous care (requirement)," said Carolyn Frasor, program monitor at the mental health board.
"We hope to grow it and get more information out there," she added. "There are ongoing efforts to expand the program."
But officials and users stand by the quality of Care Trak. Bobbie Mitchell's autistic 19-year-old grandson has used the device since September and said it gives her peace of mind.
"I'm pleased with the system," said Mitchell, adding that it has malfunctioned once. "Before the tracking device, when his medication wasn't working properly, he would be anywhere. I was calling the police every two weeks because he would just lose it."
Police departments in Crystal Lake, Cary, Woodstock, Johnsburg, McHenry, Huntley and the McHenry County Sheriff's Office have purchased the equipment, which costs $5,000.
Knop said the the device could be cost prohibitive for some agencies, but said most, if not all departments purchased Care Trak with outside sponsorship. The sheriff's office and the Crystal Lake Police Department received funding from Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, Knop said.
The device costs $270 for the individual.
Options exist for those who worry about a wandering relative but don't qualify for Care Trak, said Cathy Chudy who is in charge of information and referral as the Crystal Lake-based Senior Services. 5Star is a GPS tracking device available at Walmart. There are also daycare services for senior citizens, which are useful for those who can't be under 24-hour care, Chudy said.
"Dementia is a terrifying illness," Chudy said. "At least with a daycare or something like that they are not home alone."