Lessons learned for keeping loved ones safe

My friend Ronnie and her sister just signed their mom up for a personal emergency alert system. It’s the kind that hangs around your neck and will signal the company if you press the button.

An emergency dispatcher will respond and attempt to talk to you to see if you pushed the button in error and are OK, or if you need help. If you do not answer, the dispatcher will assess the situation and call an emergency contact that is best suited to your circumstances. Sometimes the dispatcher needs to call your second contact in case the first one cannot be reached.

Ronnie’s mother is in her nineties and lives alone at her home in Michigan. Ronnie’s sister lives near her mother and is the first point of contact for the emergency alert folks. Ronnie lives here in California and is on the list as the second contact as a fallback position.

A few weeks ago, Ronnie received a call from the emergency alert company. She immediately panicked, as she realized something had happened and the dispatcher could not make contact with her mother or her sister.

Ronnie received the information and told the dispatcher she would handle it from here, again trying to reach her sister. When she did connect, she learned her sister was 20 minutes away from their mom’s house and she would head right over.

In the meantime, Ronnie thought out of an abundance of caution, that she would call 911 and ask them to do a wellness check.

Ronnie said, “The anxiety level and guilt that I felt that afternoon about being so far away was something that I will never forget. My head went to my mom laid out on the floor needing help and my not being able to get to her quickly!”

Ronnie dialed 911 from her cell phone and was connected to the local police station here. She had assumed 911 was a national number and that someone could patch her into the police station near her mom’s home in Michigan.

An officer on the phone offered to help Ronnie find the number for the Michigan police, and as Ronnie waited on hold, she became ever more worried about her mother.

Finally, they got a number and Ronnie called the Michigan police.

A few weeks earlier, Ronnie and her sister had encouraged their mother to place a key outside her home in a hiding place, so that if anyone ever needed to get into the house in an emergency, they could. Ronnie told the officer on the line where the hiding place was, feeling good that the responding officers wouldn’t need to break the door down to reach her mother.

As the officers arrived, Ronnie’s mom was just rounding the corner from the back of the house when she heard the sirens. She wondered what neighbor needed help and where the police were going.

She was certainly surprised when they parked in front of her house.

After much confusion, Ronnie’s mom explained she was outside in the backyard picking up pinecones and must have inadvertently pushed the button. The dispatcher could not reach her and called the first contact, Ronnie’s sister, and then Ronnie, who in turn called the police.

In hindsight, Ronnie realized that she should have let the emergency alert dispatcher call the police and then there would not have been any delay getting the right number for the local police.

She also realized it would be good to have the next-door neighbor’s phone number, so Ronnie or her sister could call her if they could not reach their mother.

And lastly, she now understood that the neighbor and the emergency response company should know where the spare key is hidden; that way the neighbor could do a check if needed and the dispatcher could inform the police where the spare key is located if they were called in the future.

It was quite an ordeal for all of them, and as Ronnie says, “It was a good dry run for when a real emergency happens.”

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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