Help is just a push button away with Lifeline

"Photo: Vera Beany Boggs wears her Lifeline button at all times. The Lifeline Communicator unit is nearby.Joan Soltys/staff photoIt's just a small button that somewhat resembles a cameo, but it can mean the difference between life and death, or a tragedy and a rescue.It's called Lifeline, and it is making it possible for older and disabled people to be independent and remain in their homes, providing peace of mind to both users and their families. It can be worn on a cord around the neck, around the wrist like a watch, pinned to a bra or clipped to a lapel.In an office at Whidbey General Hospital, Claudia Fuller, Lifeline Program Manager, confirms that people are making use of Lifeline. We have 220 users on Whidbey Island, and 280,000 nationally, Fuller said. The majority of users live alone, but Lifeline can also be of help to caregivers by providing respite time with the assurance that help for their care receiver is only a button away.Fuller likes to visit potential Lifeline users in their homes so she can clarify the many benefits of the system. I start by explaining that subscribers do not have to be able to reach a phone; a push of the button opens the speaker to a caring Lifeline Monitor ready to help, she said. Fuller explained how Lifeline works: In the case of a sudden crisis, the Lifeline subscriber pushes the button he or she is wearing and is immediately connected to a Lifeline Monitor. The monitor will assess the difficulty, reassure the subscriber, and stay in contact with him or her while calling appropriate help. If the subscriber is outside or not responding, the Lifeline monitor will call the appropriate responder and obtain help. Lifeline monitors do not close a case until each situation has been resolved.There are usually three responders, Fuller said: They can be neighbors, friends or family members who live relatively close to the Lifeline subscriber. Their agreement is to respond to calls from the monitor to check up on the user and provide any simple assistance that may be needed. Lifeline monitors are able to call directly to local ambulance service if emergency assistance is required. A family member will be informed at all times if the situation is serious.Rodgers Sweetland, an ex-fire captain from San Diego, is fit and healthy, belying his 89 years of age. He smiles broadly as he says, I'm really grateful to Lifeline for bringing help; it is unlikely anyone could have heard me call or would have found me for a long time. I couldn't move. Sweetland's wife Esther died last February so he is working at managing on his own now. In May, he decided it would be a good idea to subscribe to Lifeline since he'd previously had a minor incident with a heart problem. Shortly afterward, while working in his yard with a weed whacker on a pleasant May afternoon, he suddenly found himself sliding on his back down a slope--headed for a high drop off to the road below. He grabbed onto some bushes to stop himself and then realized he was in a real predicament.I dug in my heels and hung on, Sweetland said. Thank goodness for Lifeline. I pushed the button immediately. I didn't dare try to move. A Lifeline Monitor answered the call promptly, but being unable to talk with Sweetland since the communicator unit is inside the house, the Monitor called a neighbor respondent to go over and check on him.The story has a happy ending, with the neighbor arriving within five or 10 minutes, obtaining a long ladder from the garage and rescuing Sweetland from his precarious perch.Sweetland frequently retells the story, ending it by saying, I'm so glad to have Lifeline. It could have been a bad scene -- I might have been stuck there for a very long time.Langley resident Vera Beany Boggs tells a similar story. (She likes to use her nickname Beany because, she said, That's how I'm known on the Island, and I was given that nickname long before Beanie Babies came on the scene.)Boggs has used Lifeline twice.On the second incident, there was no time to fool around, she said. Lifeline was there for me, probably faster than if I'd used a phone. In fact, I couldn't have gotten to the phone. I only had to say, 'Get me help.'Boggs has the disease scleroderma, which the medical profession has only recently been able to accurately diagnose and treat. She stays active, making regular trips into Seattle for checkups, volunteering twice a week at WAIF (the Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation), and pursuing her other interests. However, a need for medical assistance can occur unexpectedly, so she is happy to have a Lifeline available. She wears her button constantly and said, rather emphatically, It is such a comfort to have, so reassuring. The monitors are calm and steady, and know what they're doing. What better way to spend $1 a day - $30 a month. I recommend Lifeline to everyone.An important feature of Lifeline is that it can be used anywhere, even in the shower, tub or jacuzzi. Lifeline buttons are waterproof and subscribers are encouraged to wear them at all times. Many calls for assistance are the result of falls within the home, particularly in the bathroom. As Fuller says, The button does them no good if it's left hanging on the bedpost. She strongly advises each user to always wear the button.Lifeline can also become an extension to the telephone. A subscriber need only wait until the second or third ring of the phone, then press the Lifeline button. This activates the speaker in the communicator and the subscriber can converse with the caller from across a room. For the person living alone who does not have someone checking on them each day, Lifeline has provided an inactivity alarm. The subscriber presses a yellow reset button on the communicator each day. If the reset button isn't pushed, a Lifeline monitor will try to contact the subscriber. If there is no answer, the monitor will send a responder to check on the situation. Lifeline home communicators rarely require maintenance. They contain rechargeable backup batteries that allow the units to continue working even when the power is out. The communicators and buttons are routinely checked, and if they do require maintenance, a fax is automatically generated to the subscriber's local Lifeline office for followup. Lifeline monitoring never closes and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.For more information about Lifeline for yourself, a loved one, or a friend, call Whidbey General Lifeline at 321-7656, ext. 3353."

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