New law regulates PERS, imposes penalties

Thursday, October 16, 2008

FRANKFORT, Ky.--A law that went into effect here on July 15 is designed to set up clear guidelines for contact protocol when an end user activates a personal emergency response system (PERS). Proponents of the law say it will help Kentuckians get the appropriate emergency aid they need in a timely manner. Senate Bill 57, or the "Christine Talley Act," regulates PERS providers by allowing their customers to specify that 911 be the first call the monitoring station makes when a PERS device is activated. A civil penalty of not more than $10,000 per violation could be assessed against providers who knowingly violate the new law.
Signed by Gov. Steve Beshear on April 14, 2008, Senate Bill 57 was introduced by Sen. Tom Buford (R) on January 8, 2008. Sen. Buford said that the Christine Talley Act was an important piece of legislation. "There were really no guidelines. [PERS providers] are selling these products interstate, in our state, internationally, and there were no guidelines for a protocol, no guidelines for who is responsible if something doesn't happen." Sen. Buford said that the new law provides much needed regulation. "So we put in some legislation that ramps this thing up to where these [PERS providers] now have some direction of what will be the minimums of what will be requested of them."
A statement from the office of the Kentucky Attorney General explained, "contracts after 2008 must include certain provisions, and PERS providers must notify customers with contracts existing before January 1, 2009, that they have the option to change their call list." The mandatory PERS service contract provisions are that the customer must be allowed to: designate 911 as the first place to be called; choose the order for contacting those on the call list; specify that 911 be called if the customer does not verbally respond when the PERS provider attempts voice-to-voice communication; and provide that if the customer does not designate 911 as the first call, 911 will by default be called after the PERS provider has tried without success to contact the people on the customer's call list. The law also requires PERS providers to relinquish pertinent information, like the customer's name and address, to 911, and to call the people on the customer's call list after 911 has been called, unless otherwise verbally specified by the customer at the time.
Sen. Buford said lack of regulation of PERS providers is a problem when something goes wrong and contacting the proper people in a timely fashion becomes a matter of life and death. It was such a lack of legislated protocol, Buford said, that likely contributed to the death of one of his constituents in 2007. "People were purchasing these devices, particularly seniors, and they felt some security in this device, that if they hit this button, someone would take care of their emergency need. But in [Christine Talley's] case, it was discovered the responsibility ended by the time she put her check in the mail."
On Memorial Day, 2007, Christine Talley died after suffering a heart attack. Talley owned and used a PERS device from Phillips Lifeline. However, the monitoring company first attempted to contact Talley, who was unable to respond, before attempting to contact the other people on her call list. According to Sen. Buford, Lifeline didn't contact emergency responders until after Talley was found by her son and taken to the hospital, nearly an hour after the initial activation of the PERS device.
Hardcopies of the Christine Talley Act can be obtained by contacting the Legislative Research Commission, Public Bill Room, Capitol, Frankfort, KY 40601. The PERS law can also be found online at