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Portland Mail Carriers Stick up for Older Adults

Portland Mail Carriers Stick up for Older Adults

Did you know that one of the most important points of social contact for some older adults is their mail carriers?

Mail carriers come by six days a week with mail and packages, so they provide a much-needed human and friendly face, but they also make sure the people on their rounds are safe. In fact, the United States Postal Service has run a voluntary program called the Carrier Alert Program since 1982. When a participating mail carrier notices signs of a problem, like a senior not answering her door, or evidence of a fall, he can contact a supervisor to escalate the situation if the senior is enrolled in the program.

Mail carriers can also act outside the program to call law enforcement or emergency medical services if there’s a life-threatening emergency affecting one of their customers. Since they interact with their customers almost every day, they know what to look for, and how to tell if something is wrong.

Mail carriers are heroes every day: in Cincinnati, a mail carrier saved the life of an elderly man when he fell at a condo complex; a North Carolina mail carrier intervened to save a stroke victim on his route; a Michigan mail carrier helped an elderly woman after a fall in her home; an Indiana mail carrier helped another stroke victim; and a Minnesota mail carrier rushed to the rescue with CPR to help a customer after a heart attack.

The post office says that: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” but it takes its role as a member of the community, and the family, very seriously. While the UPS man might be willing to toss some boxes up on the porch and run, letter carriers who work on door delivery routes have to take the time to walk up to each door (and into every business) and often end up interacting with people as they deliver their mail.

So when Portland letter carriers heard that their district post office was pushing property owners to switch to what’s known as “cluster delivery,” a group of boxes at the corner or another central point, they fought back. Cluster delivery is supposed to be more efficient, something the USPS cares about since it’s facing significant financial problems and is looking for ways to cut costs so it can continue delivering services.

The problem with this particular cost cut, though, is that it would eliminate the important interaction between mail carriers and seniors on their routes. Without door delivery, mail carriers might miss signs that something’s going wrong until mail starts building up in a mail box, which means a senior could lie for days after a fall, stroke, or heart attack, and disabled customers could face similar lags if they need help.

Cluster boxes are also less convenient than door delivery, of course, but more importantly, they’re less secure: they’re easier for vandals to damage and break into, and they present a risk for identity theft as well as stolen property. While the post office is pushing for mass adoption of cluster boxes, mail carriers, community advocates and seniors aren’t so sure it’s a good idea.

As Portland letter carriers fight the conversion in their own community, you might want to think about yours, too: if you live in a condo association, apartment building, or similar shared structure, make sure your manager knows that you oppose cluster delivery and want to retain door delivery. Otherwise, let your landlords (if you rent) and your postmaster know!


Photo credit: Jerry Swiatek

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2:40AM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Just moved to a complex for seniors and those with disabilities which has cluster boxes. It is difficult to get my mail some days because the walk seems so far ( it's more tiring but probably good for me). I agree the human interaction is better for people who can easily become isolated.

12:57AM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Sounds like good citizenship to me. May we all have helpers like this when we are older or sick.

9:20PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

I'm grateful for the services rendered by postal people. It would be soooo nice if we all cared about our neighbors like this.

8:11PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

Ummm...that comment about the UPS drivers was uncalled for. I've read about UPS heroes and I wouldn't be surprised if I read one here

7:15PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

I have always wanted to live there

6:44PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

Although this doesn't affect me directly, since I live in a rural area and my box is at the end of my driveway, I am disturbed that the post office would put their efficiency before the customers safety. I remember my grandmother's carrier stopping to talk with my mom. He had just delivered her mail and she seemed very confused that day. Mom went over to check on her and took her to her doctor. She had a mild stroke and we were very grateful to her carrier for letting us know she needed help that day.

6:06PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014


5:51PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

Here in Virginia, we only interact with our mail carrier when we receive something to big for our mail box. We've never had a problem.

5:22PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

As a "cluster" box person and a former employee of the PS I personally hate the things. They were introduced to cut costs and they also make a lie of the PS statement that "We delivery to every address, every day." A cluster box is not an address, it is at times a hardship for those who are elderly or disabled.

5:21PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

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