Lifesaving volunteerism

Nonagenarian Cecil Bray is one half of the dedicated duo that volunteers in Enloe Medical Center’s Care-Line program

Joseph Bates (left) and Cecil Bray prove that volunteerism can be done at any age.

Joseph Bates (left) and Cecil Bray prove that volunteerism can be done at any age.

Photo By Kyle Delmar

Sign-up site:
To enroll in Care-Line or to get more information, call 332-7538 or log onto (click on the “Medical Services” bar, then the “Care-Line” link).

Cecil Bray may be 91, and may have retired from the phone company in 1979, but that hasn’t stopped him from installing telecommunications equipment in homes across the North State.

Lifesaving telecommunications equipment, at that.

Bray is a volunteer for Enloe Medical Center’s Care-Line service. Every Friday, he and his installations partner, 95-year-old Joseph Bates, pay service calls on people who need emergency-alert technology and prefer the provider be local.

You’re probably familiar with the TV commercial in which an elderly woman presses a button and declares, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” That’s the service Care-Line provides locally, for $35 a month but with a sliding scale down to $5 for low-income customers.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, someone will answer Care-Line calls for help made in and around the client’s home through a beeper medallion. It’s Bray’s job to set up the base unit attached to a phone line and get the whole apparatus working.

It’s something he’s been doing for almost 35 years—just about the whole time Enloe has offered the service.

“This is right up his alley,” said Bob Kiuttu, Enloe’s emergency-services manager.

“It’s a good job; it’s a highly respected job,” Bray said. “Enloe Hospital really appreciates us. They use us as a sounding board for what we hear about new programs, the nurses, the doctors, the food, things like that.”

That’s because many clients began as patients in the hospital, and the patients feel comfortable talking to Bray and the half-dozen other volunteers who install Care-Line equipment.

“When we get out there talking to someone who’s ill or just released from the hospital, they are glad to see us.” Bray said. “First, because they know we are going to install a set for them for their own protection, and also that we’re veterans of World War II. They open up and talk to us about their experience in the hospital and how things went.

“We meet a lot of nice people out there. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to finish our installation and leave; they don’t want us to leave. They want us to talk to them. We’ve been offered lunches and coffee and donuts and everything else, but we have to tell them, ‘We’ve got more installations we’ve got to do!’”

The fact that Bray and the other volunteers are seniors—sometimes decades older than the customers—makes a difference, Kiuttu said. Bray agrees: “They think maybe because we’re older fellows, we’re not going to hurt them and everything is going to be all right.”

Kiuttu says Care-Line currently has around 325 customers. That’s not a lot when compared to national services, but Enloe isn’t seeking to compete with the big boys.

“We don’t widely promote [Care-Line],” Kiuttu said. “We see it as a community service—part of the comprehensive mission of Enloe. It’s still around in a few hospitals, but not many. We just feel like ours is a little more hometown the way we’re set up.”

Both Bray and Kiuttu remember the infancy of the Care-Line technology. Back in the 1970s, before home computers and cell phones, pioneers in the emergency-alert arena needed to piece together technology of the time to get working models.

Early Care-Line customers wore medallions that included a button and a battery. “It was far from waterproof,” Kiuttu said, “and it was about the same size and double the thickness of a matchbook.” When the button was pressed, a radio signal got transmitted to the main device—essentially a circuit board and a tape player—attached to the phone line.

“This remote unit would play this eight-track tape that would automatically dial into the response center and play a prerecorded message like, ‘micro alert No. 8, micro alert No. 8.’ We would have an index card file [in the emergency room] that had all the data on that subscriber, and we would send out responders.”

The technology is more advanced these days. The medallion is a lot smaller and acts like a tiny cell phone, using its home base like a cell tower. The customer speaks with an emergency services person at Enloe, who then can determine whom to contact: family, neighbors, police, fire or ambulance.

Ironically, the more sophisticated equipment is easier to install. Tech-savvy clients can take the unit, read through the manual, hook everything up and be ready to go.

Others appreciate the personal service that comes from the volunteers. Who better to help get a Care-Line installed than a former phone man?

Bray started volunteering toward the end of his 37-year tenure with AT&T. He’d begun his career as a lineman, then moved up the ranks to the position of senior engineer. He and three other supervisors decided on volunteer work, and installing emergency-alert equipment was, as Kiuttu said, right up their alley.

“I knew that I was going to be retiring,” Bray explained, “and I wanted to do something to pay back the community effort for all the things that go on in Chico. There are lots of volunteers in Chico, and I wanted to be part of that group.

“The technical aspects, all those things went down with my line of business. I had a pretty good background with the different systems and how things worked. So everything in terms of installing units in the home, the work and the problems that could occur, it worked out for me that that would be a good volunteering job, and the reason I’ve been doing it for so many years.”

He plans to continue doing so. Enloe has contracted with a new provider that will monitor calls at a centralized location, but the volunteers like Bray will continue to make house calls every Friday, making sure each Care-Line unit is set up for whenever it might be needed. (Enloe staff members respond to service calls on other days.)

“Our volunteers are a dedicated group,” Kiuttu said. We’ve had a pretty good corps of guys over the last 20 years.”

In the case of Bray, a whole lot longer.