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Spotlight on Lifeline Personal Response System

July 1, 2005

Concerned about leaving his aged mother home alone all day, Andrew Dibner, an engineer, developed a transistor radio-sized alarm system so she could buzz him if she needed help but couldn’t reach the telephone. Gave him piece of mind plus, his invention was the startup for a successful service industry called Lifeline Personal Response System. Today, Lifeline call buttons are the size of a man’s watch, weigh less than an ounce, they’re waterproof and most importantly, they connect to a national computerized personal response system that knows who and where you are, your medical history and needs.

Sigrid Gentile-Chambers is manager of the Bozeman Deaconess Lifeline department. The former Texas Lutheran Social Service statewide Lifeline coordinator says although most employees don’t know it, Bozeman Deaconess offers the program as a community service.

Lifeline—a component of HealthCare Connections on North 19th—is the smallest department in our organization. But its single and seriously dedicated employee/manager, Gentile-Chambers, keeps track of more than 300 clients in Gallatin and four neighboring counties. (And, some who take their Lifeline equipment with them on vacation or to their winter homes.)

Lifeline, not to be confused with the ‘Life Alert’ system seen on TV and in ads, offers personal service. “I develop an individual care plan for each person,” said Gentile-Chambers. “During intake I compile information on medical conditions and allergies, name and number of personal physician and the names of first responders, usually neighbors, family or close friends. I also ask about any dogs or weapons in the home, where a key is hidden and get explicit directions in the event 911 is called to respond.”

If an elderly rancher in Livingston falls in the muck and his cellphone flies out of reach or a wheelchair bound person in Legion Villa in Bozeman drops her telephone, a push of a Lifeline button can save them hours of helplessness. An area service station uses the service so isolated nightshift employees can call for help if needed. A stroke victim might have the phone in hand but not be able to remember the several steps required to call for help. People can be stranded for hours. “It happens. Patients slip in bathroom or can’t get out of the tub, others have fallen on the back porch and broken a hip,” said Pam Hiebert, MD. “It’s wonderful to have Lifeline, they just have to push a button and someone gets to them right away.”

When a client activates Lifeline, their individual care program comes up on an encrypted computer screen at Lifeline Central, and within an average of 23 seconds a monitor is talking to them through the Lifeline unit speaker. If they are unable to reach the client or the designated responder, the appropriate central 911 county dispatch is notified. After a call, the system is reset and an incident report is faxed to Gentile-Chambers, who follows up on the event.

“We offer a month-to-month contract, equipment maintenance and monthly check-in calls,” Gentile-Chambers notes. Bozeman Deaconess Hospital owns the computer units placed in peoples’ homes; Lifeline clients pay a service charge of $32 a month and a one-time installation fee—$43 for those between Bozeman and the Three Forks-Livingston area and $73 for set-up for those in communities beyond. [The personal response service not associated with Bozeman Deaconess requires up front purchase of individual units ($500), has double the monthly service fee as Lifeline and a three-year binding contract.]

“The philosophy of the hospital—and me personally—is that everyone who needs this service should have it,” Gentile-Chambers said. That’s why the Gift Shop gave the Bozeman Deaconess Foundation $5,000 to support consumer access to Lifeline. She said the funds are dedicated to paying monthly service charges for those who cannot afford it. Several clients currently receive scholarships and/or reduced rates from Bozeman Deaconess. Insurance programs and Medicare don’t, at this time, pay for personal response security, but a Medicaid waiver through HRDC provides Lifeline service to those who meet financial and medical criteria, although there is a wait list.

Lifeline buttons, much like wi-fi Internet, have a 300-foot range from the ‘mother’ unit. Most people wear them around their neck although some prefer wristbands. Adaptive technology for people with special needs is also available. In the event of a power failure, batteries work up to 20 hours. While the average user is age 75, the youngest person is 16 and the oldest 97. Usually, Lifeline buttons are activated when a person falls, but some calls are made when a person is short of breath in the middle of the night. A number of times the button is hit by mistake, and that’s expected. Calls go to Lifeline Central in Boston (two backup facilities were built after September 11) and no matter what the reason for the call, a team of Lifeline Central monitors provide personal, professional service and follow-up.

Gentile-Chambers vouches for Lifeline company executives. They never fail her or her clients. And, then, she takes service several steps further. Intakes include training and small talk and clients can count on her for new batteries or equipment upgrades along with phone calls, thank you and condolence cards and hospital visits.

“I meet the most amazing people and I love my job,” she said. If you’d like to be part of the Bozeman Deaconess Lifeline department—and you like driving—consider applying for the casual call position Gentile-Chambers recently posted. For more information call 522-4622.
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