Sometimes I Feel Like a Piece of Bologna

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Life Alert or Lifeline

If you’re a long distance caregiver for an elderly parent, you’ll want to contract with one of these services for emergency medical alert service. You’ve seen the commercials or ads. The client wears a push-button system on a neck cord or bracelet. If she needs help, she simply pushes the button and the service responds. It can then call an ambulance or a contact person. Some of the services even have a fall monitor so if they client falls and loses consciousness, the service is alerted.

So here’s the question: how do you decide? Let me share our experience to give you some insights. My mom sprained her ankle a few years ago while we were traveling. My brother had to make some quick decisions. He called Life Alert and signed up for their service. They required a three-year contract and payment of almost $300 for their equipment, plus almost $60 per month. I don’t think he realized there were options, so he signed. Fortunately, she never had to use it, but we rested better knowing she had it.

The three-year contract period was recently over, so we decided to see if we could find something less expensive. We had seen cheaper services advertised. I talked to a local home care provider, who recommended Lifeline. I learned that Lifeline is managed through the local hospital, so we’re dealing with a local representative. They don’t charge an equipment fee. They don’t require a contract. They install for free. And their monthly fee is considerably less than that of Life Alert. Of course, we signed up. Then the “fun” began.

I called Life Alert to cancel the service. I was immediately transferred to the customer retention department, where I was promptly offered the same service for $29.95 per month rather than $60. I asked why, and the rep said because we had been with them for three years. I asked why they hadn’t called or alerted us? Why did we have to cancel to get that rate? No response. So I cancelled. I was told we needed to return the equipment that we had bought. They sent a box for the return. Meanwhile, Lifeline did their installation and all was well.

So Mom returned the equipment, but received another bill for the next month plus a bill for $94. Seems she hadn’t returned the smoke detector that they had apparently installed. She called customer service to find out the problem and was sent from department to department, ending up in India. Mom doesn’t hear well or understand well on the telephone, so the Indian accent made it impossible for her to understand the problem. The rep was very rude. VERY rude.

So of course, I had to take over. I called and got the same run around. I'm sure the smoke detector didn’t cost them more than a few bucks, but they were willing to hold the old lady hostage until she returned it at her expense. I'm usually pretty good at dealing with customer service, but this rep (also in India) hung up on me. We returned the silly smoke detector and put the credit card charge in dispute. I guess it’s been settled. But what a nuisance!

So make your own decision, but whatever you do, investigate thoroughly.

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