Seconds count in an emergency, but a News4 I-Team investigation exposed how medical alert devices meant to get you help fast could actually keep you waiting.
Rita Sue Amacker has plenty of help getting through rehabilitation, but when she returns to her home in rural Joelton she is counting on a medical device that she wears around her neck to help her get help fast.
“Time is of the essence,” said Amacker.
The News4 I-Team investigation raised questions if the devices created an unexpected delay.
“The problem is they all took too long,” said Kevin Brasler, who works with Consumers’ Checkbook, a consumer watchdog group in Washington, DC.
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His team tested 11 different medical devices to see how long it took for someone with the call center to answer.
The longest wait was with LifeFone. It took nearly three minutes for someone to answer.
“They all took on average 30 seconds or more to answer, and some took more than a minute on average,” said Brasler.
Compare that to the average time it takes a Nashville 911 dispatcher to answer – 6 seconds.
Brasler’s main criticism is that for medical alert devices, your call for help goes to a call center which then contacts 911.
In Nashville, each time a call comes in from one of those call centers, it comes in on the non-emergency line.
Sometimes it takes someone 20 seconds to answer those calls.
News4 obtained a call from a medical alert company to Nashville’s 911 center. The operator who called can’t give specifics on the person who’s fallen.
“How far did he fall?” asked the 911 dispatcher. “On the floor,” replied the caller with medical alert company.
“Just from ground lever?” asked the dispatcher. “I’m not sure,” replied the caller with the medical alert company.
“What caused the fall?” asked the dispatcher. “I’m not sure,” replied the caller with the medical alert company.
Dispatcher Ashley Gray said she has taken calls where the medical alert company has an old address for the victim.
“It’s not always accurate. It’s sometimes blocks away,” said Gray. “Sometimes not even in the same neighborhood.”
So why won’t these devices connect to 911 dispatchers directly. Currently Tennessee law prohibits it.
A spokesperson for the 911 center told the I-Team the center is not staffed, designed or budgeted to handle these calls.
The I-Team reached out to medical alert companies for comment about Consumers’ Checkbook’s findings.
A spokesperson for LifeFone described some of what was found by Consumers’ Checkbook as inaccurate.
Despite the three minutes it took for someone to answer during the testing, LifeFone said its average response time last year was 13 seconds.
LifeStation said not everyone who needs help can get to a phone and the device can be lifesaving in an emergency situation where someone can’t move.
Knowing Amacker is about to leave rehab, the I-Team tested her device.
It took 15 seconds for the company to answer. It was less than any of the devices Brasler tested, but longer than if she called 911 herself.
She hopes the next time she needs help, she gets it fast.
“It gives me peace of mind, and that’s what it’s all about,” said Amacker.