City rolls false medical alert penalties into false alarm ordinance

Fire Department says it's following a trend
Thursday, March 4, 2010

ROCKFORD, Ill.—The fire department here has embarked on an educational campaign that could find seniors who don’t use their PERS systems properly paying hefty false alarm fines. What’s more, the Fire Department here says similar initiatives are springing up around the state of Illinois.

Rockford Fire Department Chief Bill Beaman said the false medical alarm ordinance is in response to a growing problem and follows a growing trend. “It’s happening in some of the larger cities across Illinois now … There’s a number of high rises where the occupants are elderly. And they have medical alarms in their buildings and the facilities are requiring their occupants to punch their medical alarm in the morning when they get up. And if they don’t do that, then the alarm company calls the management and the management checks on the occupant,” Beaman said. “But if it’s after-hours or weekends, then nobody’s in the building—management’s gone.” The next bullet on the protocol list is for the operator to dispatch 911. It’s these wasteful 911 dispatches—requiring a full ambulance roll with paramedic team—that the RFD hopes to curtail.

American Two-Way president and CEO Christopher Baskin, who is on the board of directors of the Medical Alert Monitoring Association, feels false medical dispatches and attendant ordinances to control them will most likely increase. “There are already many places in the country where paramedics do charge for false dispatches of paramedics. However, I believe in the years ahead that more and more municipalities will start charging for false alarms for paramedic dispatches,” Baskin said. “The PERS market has been in the past a very simple, straight-forward service, and generally two-way voice has prevented false dispatches from occurring. Now, however, with much more competition in the PERS industry and the rollout of telehealth and telemedicine service—like remote medication management and vital sign monitoring—more false dispatches will continue to occur.”

Acadian Monitoring Services vice president Blane Comeaux, who is secretary for the MAMA, feels more responsibility needs to be taken by the alarm companies involved. “The installer or contracting company is responsible for designing a solid plan of action before the alarm activates. In this case, resolving to call 911 because the subscriber does not check in at a specified time is not a solid plan of action and is a misuse of the EMS system,” Comeaux said. “Furthermore, building management needs to be the primary contact for a failure to check in by the subscriber, followed by the subscribers’ neighbors. This type of alarm should be required to be verified before dispatching and should be written into the contract and sold as such.”

Beaman was quick to note legitimate calls for help would not be penalized and that the real aim was education. “If someone just needs assistance—even getting out of a chair—they’re not charged,” he said. “If it’s a facility that’s requiring this, then they’re charged … We had one facility where we ran 16 times—false alarms—in one weekend. We’re trying to make facilities a little more accountable … It’s not about the money.”

Each subscription address will be allowed a total of four false alarms of any type—police, fire and medical—and then will be billed according to the following schedule: Fifth-eighth false alarm—$100 per false alarm; Ninth-10th false alarm—$200 per false alarm; More than 10 false alarms—$300 per false alarm. In addition, all subscribers must obtain an alarm permit through the City of Rockford Finance Department. The fine for not having a valid permit is $300.