Vial of Life Can Save Lives

The Vial of Life program has been saving older residents’ lives for more than 20 years in San Diego County.

“In its simplest form, the program is about putting emergency information onto a form where paramedics and emergency responders can find it on your refrigerator,” said Marty Dare, who works with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) Family Caregiver Support Program.

The actual Vial of Life is a plastic sleeve that is attached to the refrigerator door with a magnet. The older adult decides what information emergency personnel should know including current medications, current immunizations, medical problems or disabilities, allergies, physician and emergency notification information; insurance details and if the person has a California Advance Health Care Directive.

“There is a sticker that goes on the resident’s front door to tell emergency responders to look for the Vial and most know to look for it,” said Dare. “The responders themselves are the biggest advocates for the program.

“They know how important it is for them to go into a home and have all the information written down in one location.” Originally, the Vials were literally a pill vial placed inside the refrigerator, but through the years it became obvious that putting the information on the door made it easier to locate than rummaging through leftovers and groceries to try to find it. The name Vial of Life stuck anyway, according to Dare.

The program is run by HHSA’s Aging & Independence Services, St. Paul’s Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly and Project CARE. County residents can fill out a Vial of Life form online at, by visiting a Project CARE site in the County (locations can also be found at that website) or at various community events throughout the year.

Funding is provided by donations from St. Paul’s, SDG&E and the Sycuan and Barona tribal communities.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact