What's in a name? In this case, that isn't what's important

CONCORD – The name is less important than the goal.

That’s what supporters decided about setting up a broadcast alert for mentally impaired seniors and the developmentally disabled.

They gave up any hopes of creating a New Hampshire Silver Alert Program.

During a recent state House of Representatives subcommittee meeting, an official with the New Hampshire Hospital Association pointed out calling it a “Silver” Alert would be in conflict with the group’s emerging emergency codes.

Last year, the hospital group recommended cutting 94 codes to 10 in forming a universal system that’s more easily understood.

A Silver Alert refers to a hostage situation or someone with a weapon in the hospital.

“We just wanted to let you know that the Silver Alert already exists for a different purpose,” hospital spokeswoman Kathy Bizarro told the committee.

A Silver Lining – In pursuit of Terry’s Law

Ann Conceison, of Amherst, and Mary Stipe, of Merrimack, first came up with the idea of a New Hampshire alert. Initially, they hoped it could be called “Terry’s Law,” in honor of their mother, Teresa Canty Cahill, who died last July after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Then, they came up with Silver Alert.

“It really doesn’t matter what it’s called,” Conceison said. “Just creating a program that will help people is the most important thing. I’d leave it up to more creative minds than mine to come up with the best name when the time comes.”

Rep. Peter Batula, R-Merrimack, said Silver Alert became obsolete because the bill also covers those of any age with a developmental disability who disappear.

Rep. Timothy Robertson, D-Keene, a member of the subcommittee, said it made sense to leave the bill (HB 279) simply as addressing certain “missing persons.”

“I don’t think it’s up to us to be naming stuff,” Robertson said.

There’s no universal name in the 13 states that already have alert laws for missing seniors.

The Silver Alert tag has taken hold in Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and in Congress, which is considering a nationwide federal program.

Kentucky’s moniker is the Golden Alert; in Delaware, it’s shortened to Gold Alert.

In Colorado and Rhode Island, it’s known as the Missing Senior Citizens Alert Program and in Virginia, it’s a Senior Alert.

Missouri has the Missouri Endangered Persons Advisory Program.

Georgia calls theirs the Mattie’s Call Program, named in honor of Mattie Moore, 86, an Atlanta resident with Alzheimer’s disease who wandered from her home.

Rep. Robert Willette, R-Milford, a subcommittee member, asked whether people could abuse this program and flood local police with requests.

Batula answered by saying local law enforcement would winnow those pleas for help that don’t meet the bill’s criteria.

In North Carolina, hundreds who report to local police about missing people every year learn their case doesn’t qualify.

“We’d hear from a family member concerned that someone missing with diabetes is without their medication,” N.C. program analyst Nona Everette said. “We leave it to local police to inform them our program can’t help them. I’m sure that can be frustrating.”

Ultimately, Willette went along with the other two members of the committee to endorse the bill’s passage.

The only change made came at the urging of Kenneth Nielsen, a lawyer with the Department of Health and Human Services. Before an alert is issued, a guardian or loved one has to supply “documentation” to police that the missing person is impaired. Nielsen convinced the group to change the reference to “information.”

” ‘Documentation’ sounds too specific,” Nielsen said. “This change makes it more general and gives families some flexibility.”

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is expected to recommend passing the bill, possibly as early as Thursday. It would then head to the House for an initial vote of approval.

The real test could come after that, when state budget writers on the House Finance Committee would examine the cost of such a program.