Wahrsager said that just because a customer triggers an alarm, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an emergency situation. Sometimes a customer will trigger the device to summon help from a neighbor or family member because they don’t feel well or they can’t find medicine. It’s also paramount for a PERS operator to have patience in dealing with a customer because often times a person that lives alone may use their system just for purpose of just being able to communicate with another human being. It’s a part of the business to which Wahrsager says operators must be sensitive.
“A lot of people use [a PERS system] for the sake of having someone to talk to once a day. They’ll hit the button under the pretext of testing the unit or that it was a false alarm, but they’re really looking for someone to talk to and you have to take that into consideration. You have to treat every single person on the other end of that phone as if they were grandparents who you’ve loved and grown up with.”
Wahrsager said that PERS operators are specifically trained in learning how to put people at ease, as well as how to deal with people who may have a slight case of dementia or can’t hear as well as a typical person.
During an emergency situation or when help needs to be summoned, PERS operators work in teams of two. While one relays the customers’ information and the problem to emergency responders or family members, the other operator stays on the line with the customer and talks to them until help arrives.
PERS Contracts and Legislation
Depending upon the company, most PERS subscribers can expect to pay between $25 and $35 a month for monitoring. A general rule of thumb about most PERS contracts, however, Wahrsager said is that should a customer enter a hospital for an extended period of time or has to be placed in a nursing facility, the contract, no matter the terms is completely nullified.
“A PERS contract is not like a burglar alarm contract,” he said. “It has a much shorter lifespan, even though there are some medical alert companies out there that are holding elderly people to extensive five and seven year contracts.”
Wahrsager added that companies who do engage in such dubious business practices run the risk of being sued by state attorney generals as many are being now.
As far as legislation is concerned, many states employ licensing standards in which the firm offering PERS monitoring and the monitoring station itself has to be licensed to do so in that state. Even though a company may be licensed for burglar and fire alarms, many states have regulations that treat PERS monitoring separately.
There are also federal regulations that prohibit operators from dispensing medical advice over the phone. According to Wahrsager, some companies advertise that they have EMS-trained operators, which he said is somewhat misleading to the consumer.
“The problem with this is that it really is a sales tool,” he said. “The EMS operator is not dispensing any form of medical advice and if they do they are subject to violations of HIPAA regulations and federal regulations because an EMS worker is only licensed in the one state in which they operate. For example, if the central station is in Pennsylvania and they’re dispatching in Florida, they cannot give out critical medical information because they would be in violation of HIPAA laws.”
Marketing a PERS system
As far as marketing a PERS solution, Wahrsager said that his company markets directly to end users on the Internet through their website, www.seniorcare911.com, as well as through home healthcare agencies because they are frequently contracted by insurance companies and families to provide visiting nurse services and they realize that many of the people their working with could use the assistance of a PERS system. In addition, the company also markets through religious organizations and counties and state agencies.
In contrast to the selling of a traditional burglar or fire alarm, Wahrsager said that dealers typically need to have less aggressive people working to sell PERS.
“It’s a different paradigm. You’re kind of tugging on the heart strings of people,” he said. “Whether you’re selling it to the end user themselves or the family of the end user, their children who feel guilty about leaving their parents three states away, you have to have a higher degree of ethics and a sense of understanding about what the PERS system is being required for and why people need it. You need to train your people. It’s not for Joe the trunk slammer. It’s for somebody who cares about people.”