St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Medical Alert -- Help I have fallen...

Medical Alert Link
Mom, 91, listens to TV a lot. Her TV friends are more real than most others as when one lives to be that old, most of your friends have passed on and your relatives have spread far and wide and have lives of their own. 

 One of the high pressure ads is the medical alert systems where an old person has fallen and presses a button and gets help. Just call an 800 number and sign up.  Many ads come directly through the mail too, likely from mailing lists sold by charities that prey on the elderly.  

   Mom sent in a card, got a high pressure pitch to sign up for $35 per month system located in Pennsylvania and did with the bill to come in the mail.      

  After talking to Jennie, her neighbor who is 96, her only regular visitor other than her 3 sons,  she changed her mind and tried to call back and cancel.  The high pressure salesman, Chris Corsant (?) talked her into giving her bank account number and signing up for more months instead of cancelling. 

Jennie scolded mom for giving out her bank account, and that is where Mom brought brother Marv into the process (who brought in Ev and me).  We were unable to reach a person with the phone number.  Messages left were ignored.  Oh Oh, one of those scams to get your bank account number and run it dry. 

The device (rented by the monthly fee of $35) came in the mail by UPS.   We told mom to not accept it.  It was just dropped off without her knowledge on the porch.   I took it to UPS and "refused delivery."  

That happened 2 times.  Marv had the $99.25 initial charge stopped at the bank (cost $35 to do this).  

Then Mom got a letter in the mail with the bill, $99.35 and a phone number of the actual company -- not just the salesman. 

 Marv called them and explained the cancellation and refusal and they appeared to be OK with that--saying when they got the device back would take mom off the signup.  In the meantime, we are debating getting rid of the bank account number--switching to a new account that the company doesn't have.   The new charge if submitted, was 10 cents higher, would again cost $35 to have the local bank stop it if indeed we could catch it ahead of time. 

The company appears to be legitimate, just employs charlatans as phone sales people--likely independent people. They did send a real package from a drop shipping point in PA of a real medical alert system (at least according the labeling on the un-opened package).  

  While this is going on we have been working with Mom on not giving her bank account number over the phone and not ordering things without some advice--things that are services rather than just an item.  She has been sending a few $2 checks each day to all sorts of the charities that send you a dime, some labels, Christmas stickers, and of course a few dozen fundamentalist TV preachers.  

She believes the $2 each means she is paying for the gifts.  I reminded her that her mother (also in her 90s) got into the same set of scams and that mom ended up stopping her writing checks when that happened.   

Mom is lonely.  Her daily mail is her lifeline to the world.  Maybe the $2 to get some mail is enough.  She has a few dozen grandchildren and great grandchildren.  She always sends them birthday cards with money; Christmas cards with money, however they don't all have time enough to reply with a thank you card or an occasional letter, whereas Boys Town thanks her and sends more stuff with each contribution.  Maybe we are recommending she cut off the wrong contributions. 
   To meet her perceived need for a medical alert (she does go to the mailbox in the yard and to the garden and is wobbly on her feet and of course won't use a walker or even a cane), I started looking for local support.  

   The St Croix Medical Center has a misleading statement on their website  SCRMC Alert System    It seems to say they have this service

Patient Services: Medic Alert System/ Medi-Mate

Medi-Mate is a 24-hour emergency response system that easily connects to a subscriber's telephone and automatically calls the hospital for help should an emergency arise. The unit can also be activated by remote control.
Friends and neighbors are trained as responders, and emergency medical personnel are always available to respond to calls. This system is designed for those who live alone or have limited mobility, and it is available through the hospital, at moderate cost, on a monthly lease basis.
For more information or home medical equipment, call Diana Gall 715-483-0267.
I called the number and found that SCRMC doesn't do anything like this itself--just referred me to a local security service that sells the service.  CWS Link   
They setup a system and provide an operator to call for about $30 per month with rental of the phone system or half that if you buy the under $300 device.  They take the call (Austin MN operators) and call a list of neighbor's numbers or 911 as they determine the need for help.  It seemed to be a reasonable service with local contacts. 
In thinking about having an Austin MN operator call neighbors (or sons in our case), I thought maybe just buying the device without the operator service would work, and so after a days of internet research decided the best device would be the Logicmark Freedom Alert which has 3 choices:
   -- 911 only   
   -- or 1 to 4 calls first and then 911 
   -- or just up to 4 numbers (with 9 retries through the 4 numbers). 
  Reviews were good; list price and most places charged $279.   In wondering if there was a cheaper alternative, checked on Walmart who offers their own $14 per month medical alert call service and found they also sold this device through their online store at $219. 
After some discussion with Mom and the brothers, I ordered the device with a 3 year Walmart warranty (about $260 total with warranty and tax).  Got it and programmed it with 4 numbers. 
Programming is not too bad-- I hooked it to the phone (the phone line goes into this device and then a wire out to your normal touch tone phone).  Call a number (my cell) to get it online and then follow some instructions to enter the password (1234#) and then each number ending with #.  The unit talks to you and lets you know what you are doing and repeats back each number as you enter it. 
The base unit has 4 rechargeable NIMH batteries that will run it without being plugged in for 24 hours.  The hand held unit is really a roving phone good for the home and yard --500 feet or so (works in the garden and at mailbox).  It has a single rechargeable lithium AAA battery that is good for a month with a recharging slot in the base unit. Tells you in voice when the battery needs changing. 
The setup was easy.  The testing was easy.  The phone calls each number in turn looking for a live person by asking each number "this is an emergency call.  Press 5 to take it..."  If you press 5, it means you are real, not just the answering machine. If you don't, it hangs up and dials the next number (up to 4 different ones).  If you don't make 911 the end number, it will cycle through the 4 numbers 9 times trying to get a real person). 
We have had some trouble getting the process through with Mom.  It would have been very easy to just set it to 911 only, however in contacting the local 911 people, they prefer the local numbers first option--for sure during the testing/learning period.  
Mom can't hear very well, so the answering machines each of us have and the Press 5 command (which she hears and thinks she should press something -- no numbers on the device to press however), and the slow process through number after number getting answering machines is frustrating and mom has always been an impatient person. But we have hope, and Mom has an emergency device that will call her sons.  She has, while we were there, tried it several times.  We plan to keep testing it with her for a few more weeks.

The handheld device can be held up to her ear and is loud enough to hear the other person.  Held at the ear, she can talk and it goes through fine to the other person --sort of a very simplified wireless roving phone connected to a base that has no buttons to press.    
Been thinking that we probably should have the device first call a person with a cell phone that is always on so the very first call always goes through and the complication of a chain of calls doesn't happen. 

 Not so good for Marv and me as our houses are down the hill west of Hwy 87 with poor cell service; brother Ev rarely turns his on as he thinks of it as his call button for when a tree falls on him next time; and we don't want to impose on the next generation for whom Mom has already passed on.  Possibly with enough brother pressure, Ev might try carrying his cell regularly ;-)
We are in the learning stages, and it is unlikely that Mom will really ever need to use this, but as it comforts her and us, we will persist and figure it out!  Of course, getting her to wear it on the cord around her neck will be an interesting effort too.  It has a belt/walker clamp too, but the neck cord works best for Mom, we think.   It is water proof to a level--can take it in the shower or maybe into the dish water, but really don't want to test that!
Wish us luck.