On Saturday afternoon, Medford police dispatcher Kerri Hill fielded calls during a major search for a missing 84-year-old Alzheimer's patient that set in motion the "A Child is Missing" program.

On Saturday afternoon, Medford police dispatcher Kerri Hill fielded calls during a major search for a missing 84-year-old Alzheimer's patient that set in motion the "A Child is Missing" program.

When her shift ended around 7 p.m., she was driving home around Cedar Links Drive and Foothill Road and observed a man walking on the roadway. "It was unusual to see somebody walking in that area," she said.

Hill, who has been a Medford dispatcher for five years, turned around and approached the man, who appeared to match the description of the missing patient.

She said it didn't take long to realize that it was Howard Parton, who had wandered a couple of miles away from his east Medford home around 3 p.m. Saturday.

"I told him people were looking for him all day," she said. "He was very, very sweet. He was very, very concerned about his wife."

Hill persuaded Parton to sit in the car and chatted with him while help arrived, and she learned that he had become upset because his dog had just died.

"I don't think I did anything special — it's just part of my nature," said Hill. "I guess little kids and those who are not able to care for themselves better are in the back of my mind all the time."

Parton was taken back to his house, mildly dehydrated but otherwise in good health.

Hill said the disappearance of Parton set in motion a little know program known as "A Child is Missing," which places 1,000's of robocalls within minutes within the area that a child or senior citizen becomes missing.

Officers who were off duty stayed on duty because they didn't want to give up the search, she said.

If Parton had wandered any further, he could have ended up in the pear groves, which would have hampered search efforts.

"At the location where he was at, he could have very well been put in harm's way," she said.

The "A Child is Missing" program is relatively new to Hill, but it is extremely new to the public.

Because of the robocalls, the dispatch center got inundated with calls wondering if it was a hoax or a scam.

She said dispatchers assured callers the situation was real and that they were looking for Parton.

Don Lane, Medford police master officer, said he and other officers have a pretty clear idea how they will conduct the search for an Alzheimer's or dementia patient.

"I would treat it a lot like a child gone missing," he said.

First, officers check the house and immediate vicinity. In the case of children, he said they are sometimes found fast asleep in the back of a car.

"A lot of times people just panic when someone goes missing," said Lane.

If the child or senior citizen is not found, officers check with neighbors and slowly work their way out of an area.

Law enforcement manpower needs are about the same whether it is a child or an Alzheimer's patient — many of whom require medication or other assistance, he said. However, if a child has been reported as abducted that sets into motion an even more vigorous search.

Even though Alzheimer's patients are confused, Lane said they are usually cooperative when approached by an officer, though some might run into bushes or behind trees.

"Most of them I've dealt with are pretty cordial," he said. "They are not scared of us, but they are not aware of what's going on."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.