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


Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Deborah W. I agree! To me it seems odd to have to "enroll" in a program for a carrier, who would be by the house any way, to call for help if he sees a downed person. But it does seem like a good program. I had never heard of it before but with the cluster boxes it would be of no use. The cluster boxes are a pain. The boxes fall apart, keys don't work, they rust and everyone's mail is there for the taking (personal experience). For the elderly I don't think the boxes are a good idea.

pat B.
Patty B3 years ago

Postal workers do look out for the elders on their routes .Also since they KNOW a neighborhood they know when ANYTHING is amiss and can report to the authorities ,
Call postal workers a " neighborhood watch " of sorts .
They beat FEDEX & UPS ANYDAY in pricing and service .
Would you also rather only pay for a stamp than a delivery by FEDEX or UPS $10.00- $20.00 FOR A DELIVERY ?
THE US GOVERNMENT IS OWNED BY LARGE (global) CORPORATIONS who are giving marching orders to politicians to decimate the USPS.
The USA is now the United Corporations of America .

anne r.
Tom R3 years ago

This program is important to seniors and people living alone or homebound. Hope it continues. a great service to the community

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

It's so good to see people caring for people, would like to see more stories like this!
Thanks for sharing.

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants3 years ago

good news

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Seniors "enrolled in the program" ... what about others on the route who might be laying around and in trouble? If unenrolled will they be stepped over

Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago

I'm grateful for my post office in downtown Bellingham. The staff is always so helpful. I sincerely hope America is able to keep delivering mail 6 days a week.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

thank you for sharing

Lady Kaira
None None3 years ago