American Medical Alarms Sends Elderly Neighbor To Investigate Next Door

Is it okay for an alarm company to ask a neighbor to check on its customer? By sending a 70-year-old woman over to check on their 80-something-year-old customer, American Medical Alarms may have helped prematurely end a robbery/beating in progress. On the other hand, they asked a 70-year-old woman to go investigate an emergency next door—basically turning her into a potential Red Shirt. As the heroic neighbor’s daughter points out, “They should have already considered the possibility that something like this could happen, and have policies in place to prevent it.”

Here’s what happened:

The afternoon of October 8, my 70-year-old mother got a call from American Medical Alarms asking her to check on an elderly neighbor whose alarm had gone off, and who hadn’t responded when they tried to contact her.

My mother ran over to the woman’s house and heard loud noises coming from inside. She pounded on the door and called the woman’s name, and two men carrying knives ran out, jumped a fence, and escaped down an alley. Police and paramedics got there soon afterward, and found the woman inside, beaten and bloody. She was taken to the hospital and is now doing well.

So while things turned out OK in this case, the fact remains that a medical alarm company sent my mother to intervene in a violent home invasion. Of course, they didn’t do it intentionally, and I’ll grant that it’s a reasonable assumption that the alarm was for a medical emergency. The woman is in her 80s and suffers from some serious medical issues. If it were a private party who had called my mother and asked her to check on the woman, I would understand completely.

But this wasn’t some well-meaning private party who didn’t have time to stop and think about all the possible scenarios. This is a corporation that exists primarily to serve as a middleman between their customers and local emergency services. This is all they do, and their customers pay them a lot of money to provide this questionable service. As such, they should have already considered the possibility that something like this could happen, and have policies in place to prevent it.

I emailed the company several days ago, asking them what their policies are, and what measures they intended to put in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future, but I haven’t gotten a response at all.

Update: We asked Lisa whether her mom volunteered to be on the woman’s contact list. Lisa wrote back,

My mom wasn’t sure why they called her, but it’s a pretty safe bet the woman listed my mom with the company as an emergency contact. My mom keeps an eye out for her, and from looking at their FAQs, they do ask for contact information. My mom didn’t know anything about it until they called her, though.

(Photo: Paramount Pictures and Greencolander)


Edit Your Comment

  1. gatewaytoheaven says:

    In other news: 80 year old man stabbed responding to call to save 85 year old man from burglary.

    Unless it’s the police (or Google) calling, I’m not going to go check on my neighbor just because someone on the phone told me to.

    • JediJohn82 says:


      Well the problem in this case is that the person they called was too old to know any better. Remember old peoples minds don’t function as well as a normal persons.

      • thisistobehelpful says:

        @JediJohn82: It was a medical alert not a security alarm. It has nothing to do with mental competence. A possible medical emergency is most likely a fall or heart attack or stroke. She’d have no reason to expect to interrupt a robbery if a MEDICAL alarm company called.

        • VagrantRadio says:

          @thisistobehelpful: Shouldn’t the medical company have just called an ambulance or professionals to check it out in stead of a neighbor?

          I mean, that’s not the service they provide or anything…

          • Rachacha says:

            @VagrantRadio: I have a home alarm that monitors my home for fire/smoke as well as burgular/home invasion. On the alarm keypad, there are pannic buttons for fire, police and ambulance.

            If one of the automated sensors goes off, they have been instructed to call my home phone (to try to determine if it is a real emergency or if I simply didn’t turn off the alarm in time or burned my toast in the morning). If they are unable to reach me at home, they contact emergency services and then continue to try to contact someone on my cell phone, neighbors and relatives to advise them of the problem.

            (If one of teh “panic” buttons are depressed, they immediately dispatch emergency services.)

            Why is it useful to contact a neighbor or relative? Timing. A neighbor can be at your home, or look out the window and advise the alarm company if they see a broken window or if the house is on fire, or can determine if I am home (just by looking at the cars that may be in the driveway). Most of this can be determined without approaching the home.

            In this case, a personal medical alarm was activated. They likely contacted emergency services, but also contacted a neighbor to see if they could gain additional knowledge about teh sutuation (i.e. did the woman simply fall, and can’t stand up but is otherwise fine, or is she suffering a heart attack, or did she fall down the stairs). Time often is critical, and a neighbor, being only 30 seconds away can begin to administer first aid which can mean the difference between life and death until emergency workers can arrive (3-4 minutes) In this situation, it was an unforseen event where the woman was being personally attacked. Based on the OPs story, it sounds as if emergency services were contacted first, and then the neighbor was called.

            I don’t think the company did anything wrong, but they may want to look at their procedures to see if there is a better way to handle these unique situations.

        • UltimateOutsider says:

          @thisistobehelpful: Yes, you’re right. They were not a home security firm who might have expected a burglary was the cause of the medical emergency.

      • mattarse says:

        @JediJohn82: No age bias in that sentence is there… I would argue that although senility is more common the older a person gets it doesn’t necessarily mean that all old people have abnormal thought processes.

      • The Black Bird says:

        @JediJohn82: “Remember old peoples minds don’t function as well as a normal persons.”

        What an asinine comment. I guess if it were up to you we’d lock up all people over a certain age in mental institutions.

      • pop top says:

        @JediJohn82: I think Warren Buffet would like to have a talk with you…

  2. Kyin says:

    One would think that in these cases the first policy would be to contact the emergency services. Although in this case I do believe the woman’s life may have been saved through these actions.

    • Naame says:

      @Kyin: That was my first thought. Were emergency services contacted before they contacted a neighbor?

      I mean, even in this case, I would imagine that this elderly beaten neighbor needed to go to the hospital for treatment anyways. Wouldn’t it be the wisest decision to get that ambulance alerted first?

      • fitzhume says:

        @Naame: I work on an ambulance, and most of these companies call us AND anyone listed as an emergency contact. If she lived next door, she simply arrived before the police and ambulance.

        The entire purpose of the comapny asking for emergency contacts is so that they can contact those people in an emergency. The company did nothing wrong, and had this simply been a case of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” (as 99% of medical alert calls are), everything would have been fine. They had no reason to believe that she was being attacked.

      • Rachacha says:

        @Naame: Based on the OP’s story, one has to assume that the company contacted emergency services, and then contacted the neighbor “Police and paramedics got there soon afterward”

        As there was no mention of the neighbor calling 911, it seems as if the alarm company followed reasonable procedures.

  3. Esquire99 says:

    The substance of the article aside, I always find it amusing when people demand internal operating policies and analysis and are upset when the company doesn’t just hand it over. It’s really none of her business how they operate.

    • Miss Scarlett is made of sugar and spice and everything nice says:

      @Esquire99: It is when they start involving private citizens. If she were demanding to know if they pay their employees by direct deposit or why type of phone they use it would not be her business but I think this is a reasonable question given they involved a family matter as a course of their operations.

    • ekzachtly says:

      @Esquire99: See, I partly agree with this, but partly I think the OP has a point. It’s sort of a smart business model to take people’s money and offer to monitor their alarm, and then use neighbors (who, no doubt, would feel some compassion or guilt and be compelled to check) as a form of monitoring. Clearly the police were involved in this one, too, but I don’t feel great about using nearby uninvolved people as part of the services you provide.

  4. kelrod says:

    Any reputable alarm response monitoring company would have notified the police and/or paramedics when the customer didn’t answer the phone, especially if the alarm was medical in nature. A person could collapse, become unconscious, or have some other medical emergency that would prevent him/her from answering a phone, and asking a neighbor to check on the validity of such an alarm could mean the difference between life and death.

    • Julia789 says:

      @kelrod: Is it possible they did call emergency services, and they were on their way at the time they called the neighbor also? The neighbor may have arrived much much faster, depending on the location of the home and how far away it is from emergency services. In some areas, it can take 15 minutes for an ambulance and police to arrive but only a minute or two for a neighbor.

      It might be that they call emergency services and also call a neighbor, trying to cover all possible bases in an emergency. It did say emergency services showed up soon after.

      • schance says:

        @Julia789: But what would the neighbor do that emergency services couldn’t? Not that many people are trained in first aid/CPR/etc, and most people likely wouldn’t even want to get involved for fear of a lawsuit.

        • Julia789 says:

          @schance: Oh I agree – the neighbor could not do much, except perhaps comfort a fallen elderly person until help arrived in the case of a broken hip, etc.

          I was just trying to solve the discrepancy of when emergency personnel arrived. It appeared that the company did not call 911 until after the neighbor was there. But perhaps things were not what they seemed, and they had called both the neighbor and 911 around the same time.

          It also puts the neighbor in great danger, in this case one woman was already assaulted, the neighbor could have been harmed as well. Doesn’t seem like a very safe policy.

      • fitzhume says:

        @Julia789: You are correct… I can guarantee that they notified police, ambulance AND the neighbor as is standard for these things.

        The person at fault here is the woman who decided to list her neighbor as the emergency contact without asking her for permission. It’s not like the company opened up the White Pages, tracked down a neighbor and asked her to go help. When this woman signed up she provided the name and phone number of the person that SHE wanted called (in addition to police and abulance).

    • sowellfan says:

      @kelrod:It could very well be that there are a very large amount of false alarms, and the company has to adopt measures to reduce those. I know in some jurisdictions, there have been laws passed that police can no longer respond to home alarms, unless the nature of the alarm can be verified before the police are called.

  5. AreYouConfusedYet?HowAboutNow? says:

    “This is a corporation that exists primarily to serve as a middleman between their customers and local emergency services.”

    Local emergency services ≠ OP’s mother.

  6. mrsam says:

    This may not be very clear from the story, but it looks like the medical alarm company called both the police and the next door neighbor. According to the submitter, the cavalry arrived “soon afterward”. The way I grok this, is that the police were already on the way, while this was going on. If his mum had to run back to her house and call 911 herself, I think the submitter would’ve made a note of it.

    • Chris Walters says:

      @mrsam: Yeah, and that’s what makes this interesting to me. It seems like part of a normal social contract to be willing, as a neighbor, to go investigate a potential problem next door. It’s the kind of behavior that makes neighborhoods more secure for everyone.

      But asking an elderly person to go check on another elderly person, after all the signs of an emergency have been noted–alarm tripped; customer doesn’t answer phone or return calls–falls into a gray area for me. The likelihood that there’s a crime in progress is low, but it seems like the company should flag neighbors who might not be capable of providing physical assistance in an emergency so that they won’t get them involved when something happens.

      • Chris Walters says:

        @Chris Walters: I am aware that I may have a sort of chauvinism toward the elderly; they trigger a weird set of overprotective responses in me.

      • tmed says:

        @Chris Walters: Don’t get that way about the elderly. I know many who would be terribly upset if this had happened next door and they had not been considered for help.

        I understand being protective of your mother, but elderly does not mean incapable.

        • spanky says:

          @tmed: She’s my mom, and she’s perfectly willing and able to respond to someone who needs help.

          They absolutely should call my mom to help her neighbor if they know she’s sick or injured. They should not, however, send my mom or anyone other than professional emergency responders to a situation in which they don’t know why the alarm went off.

          I wouldn’t be quite as mad if they’d called the younger handyman guy who lives in one of the houses between them, but that’s just because he’s not my mom. It’d still be a horrible idea.

          That story would also have a WAY more boring picture, so there’s that too.

          • floraposte says:

            @spanky: Did the neighbor give your mom as an emergency contact? Did your mom know that she’d done that?

            • pecan 3.14159265 says:

              @floraposte: I think that would be my problem. I wouldn’t mind checking on a neighbor if that person was a good friend of mine, but I’d sure like to know that I was taking on that kind of responsibility.

        • Rectilinear Propagation says:

          @tmed: But that’s why they should be asking emergency contacts if they’re willing to be contacts first. Just as elderly doesn’t mean incapable, being young doesn’t mean you are capable either.

      • floraposte says:

        @Chris Walters: A colleague of mine just yesterday accidentally set off the emergency alarm in her newly rented house. The company called her, her husband (out of town), the police, and her named emergency person (friend and other co-worker).

        So I’m wondering if this is a “named emergency person” situation, rather than a random neighbor call, and if it’s possible the discussion evolved–if the company initially just said “Mrs. A., the alarm has gone off in Mrs. B.’s house and you’re named as her emergency contact” and if things then moved to “Oh my goodness, I’m right next door and she looked fine this morning” and “Can you see her from here, or maybe just go and knock at her door?” Which still can get you into sticky territory, but it’s not just phoning up the random elderly to kick down doors.

        That being said, I do think the company, if only for their own liability protection, should probably have some kind of clear escalation template that the phone folks can stick to so they don’t forget the possibility that their customer is in a dangerous situation.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          @floraposte: i think that’s likely to be the scenario since they had to have gotten her phone number from somewhere and if they also called emergency services, they’d still be rooting through the white pages if they didn’t have her number on a document somewhere

      • subtlefrog says:

        @Chris Walters: On some level I like what you’re saying, but I have to wonder how a company would make that decision about who would be flaggable, and who would not be. And then, if someone has been a customer for 10 years, how do you keep that neighbor list current?

  7. Marshfield says:

    This could also be a violation of the HIPPA medical privacy act. My medical problems are none of my neighbor’s business.

  8. theSuperman says:

    Well hold on a sec.
    My grandmother has one of those alarms. There’s a pendant she wears around her neck. If she presses it, the machine (that sits by her bed) dials LifeLine, and the machine operates like a speakerphone. She also has to press a button every morning to say shes awake. And if she doesn’t press it in the morning, they call to make sure shes OK. If for some reason, they cannot contact her (either after pressing the button around her neck or not pressing the device in the morning), they call the primary caregiver, which is my mother. If my mother doesn’t respond, then they contact the next person on the list. I think her neighbors are on the list as well.

    So what could have happened is that the woman’s family didn’t answer, so they called the neighbor, who is on the list. I am pretty sure the medical company didn’t know a robbery was going on.

    I am willing to bet that the neighbor was on the woman’s contact list, so the company asked her to go check. Nothing to strange about that request. I mean, there’s way more of a chance of a medical emergency (or accidental pressing of the button) than of a robbery taking place.

    • pwillow1 says:

      @theSuperman: I had an elderly neighbor who listed me as her contact for her Lifeline. I got a call one day asking me to check on her. The alarm had been activated and when the company tried to contact her, she didn’t answer.

      I raced over to her apartment, fearing I’d have to call EMS. Turns out she was bringing in groceries and had inadvertently set off the alarm she wore on her wrist. When they company called to check on her, she was out of her apartment, getting more groceries from her car.

    • 339point4 says:

      @theSuperman: If the OP’s mother could hear “loud noises” in the house from outside the door, don’t you think the “speaker phone” you’ve described should be able to transmit the same sounds to the medical alarm company?
      Maybe they’re not allowed to call the police or something.

      • floraposte says:

        @339point4: They do call the paramedics, unless the person responds to the the company operators and lucidly asks for somebody else to be notified instead. However, there’s no reason to think that the loud noises were happening at the time that the neighbor depressed her alarm button, and the OP’s mom may well have gone phoneless to the neighbor’s door so couldn’t get an update from the company even if they had had one.

      • The Porkchop Express says:

        @339point4: May not be the same exact system. You can probably buy/rent different levels of equipment based on your budget.

  9. strawberryjam says:

    I want to know how they got the neighbor’s number in the first place. I’m guessing the woman put her neighbor as her emergency contact, but wouldn’t that have been mentioned in her note?

    A little creepy if that’s not the case.

  10. unpolloloco says:

    Interesting. More lives could be saved through this policy, but the company is exposing itself to some significant liability. I guess the question to be answered is whether it is better for more people to live or better to respect the privacy and safety of non-involved people.

  11. Corporate_guy says:

    From the sounds of it the company did contact emergency services. But the question is why did they call a neighbor at all?

    And the answer most likely is that the person with the alarm set it up so the neighbor would be called. Your beef is with the 80 year old using your 70 year old as an emergency contact.

    If you don’t want your 70 year old being called, tell the 80 year old to remover the 70 year from being an emergency contact.

    • Chris Walters says:

      @Corporate_guy: Agreed. See the update I posted from Lisa, the daughter of the woman who was on the contact list.

      • WorldHarmony says:

        @Chris Walters: Where is this update?

        • Chris Walters says:

          @WorldHarmony: Something strange is going on with the server(s) tonight. Here is what I added to the end of the post:


          We asked Lisa whether her mom volunteered to be on the woman’s contact list. Lisa wrote back,

          My mom wasn’t sure why they called her, but it’s a pretty safe bet the woman listed my mom with the company as an emergency contact. My mom keeps an eye out for her, and from looking at their FAQs, they do ask for contact information. My mom didn’t know anything about it until they called her, though.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            @Chris Walters: So the problem lies with one elderly person taking another under her wing, which is fine, but one has to consider why the neighbor wasn’t asked about her information. It’s just obvious that if my neighbor had me as an emergency contact I’d like to know.

            • spanky says:

              @pecan 3.14159265: No, the problem isn’t that they called her, but what they called her for. It really doesn’t have anything substantial to do with her age or with them getting consent to call her. They’d probably just call her to get consent anyway, which they sort of did, I guess.

              The problem is that it was a non-response alarm, and a company that exists solely to respond to emergencies should have predicted that some percentage of unknown emergencies would be dangerous situations. They shouldn’t have called anyone except professional emergency responders without knowing what they were responding to.

              • fitzhume says:

                @spanky: I would disagree with the notion that “some percentage of unknown emergencies would be dangerous situations”… as an EMT I respond to these medic alert calls all the time. Most of them are accidental activations and the vast majority of the rest are slip and falls. Its a medic alert system– used to notify someone that there might be a medical problem– not a security system. The company would have no reason to think that this woman was being attacked.

    • princesspineisendangered says:

      @Corporate_guy: If you don’t want your 70 year old being called, tell the 80 year old to remover the 70 year from being an emergency contact.

      So this 70 yr old is owned by someone? That phrase is insulting. Age doesn’t mean incompetence. I know a lot of incompetent middle aged and young people.

    • feckingmorons says:

      @Corporate_guy: Exactly. My mom has one of those alarms. They follow the customer’s instructions. If the customer wants the neighbor called, they call the neighbor.

      I would think the 80 year old neighbor asked the 70 year old if it was OK. They verified my brother’s permission when we listed him as an alternate contact.

    • Charmander says:

      @Corporate_guy: Um, my mom is 72 years old. She owns her own house, drives a car, walks around daily. She’d be a perfectly fine contact for a neighbor, because she can also use a phone and has a brain.

      This story makes it sound like 70-year olds are frail, doddering, housebound crippples….get real.

  12. strathmeyer says:

    I hope by the time I turn eighty we aren’t still treating the elderly like second class citizens.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @strathmeyer: Yeah, the ageism in the article and in the daughter’s complaint annoyed me. My 70+ year old mother is more than capable of being an emergency contact for her neighbors.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @WorldHarmony: But a crime was taking place and she could have been killed – you can see how it only takes one incident like this to make someone feel very upset about their mother’s safety, especially when it seems that the neighbor didn’t even know she was the contact.

      • spanky says:

        @WorldHarmony: Well, your patronizing assumptions annoy me. I only mentioned my mother’s age once in that quote. I will confess that I titled the email something like “Alarm company dispatches elderly widow to home invasion,” but I should also confess that I think my mom came up with that characterization when she was telling me about it.

        I am totally going to send in a tip now called “Ungrateful daughter steals joke from elderly widow.”

        It’s sort of funny that everyone seems to be misinterpreting the problem as having to do with listing a 70 year old as an emergency contact. That’s not it at all. The problem is that they sent an unarmed, unprepared contact person to an unknown emergency situation that turned out to be a violent crime in progress. It is perfectly understandable that someone might not think of that possibility when they get a call about a neighbor who needs help, but an alarm company that is in the business of responding to emergencies should have, and they should have policies in place to mitigate those risks.

        • fitzhume says:

          @spanky: But shouldn’t your problem be with your mom’s neighbor who asked the company to contact your mother if she activated her button? That’s the whole point of the service and she decides who they call… not them.

  13. GitEmSteveDave_MovesHisHipsLikeYeah says:

    IIRC, one of my many Ex’s grandmother had a similar device. She also had a close calling “circle” of people nearby who could be alerted if she fell/needed help and would have access/a key to her house. Is this like this?

    Yes, this was around my parts, where, unlike you city folk, we talk to our neighbors and help out whenever we can/call each other if something happens. My direct neighbors had a small fire, and within 5 minutes of the FD arriving, my OLD neighbors who had lived in that house had already been called by my other neighbors to let them know. I even call my neighbors if I hit traffic and I know it’s a way they take home so they can avoid it. It’s how, in an indirect way, my neighbor found out his cousins wife had driven through my other neighbors fence and had a piece of it lodged in her head(she’s OK now).

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_MovesHisHipsLikeYeah: will you come explain to my neighbors how to not be jerks?

    • Skankingmike says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_MovesHisHipsLikeYeah: I just moved in to the neighborhood not sure how it wokrs just yet (they seem to love block parties) and my next door neighbor though nice.. puts their dog out around 5am and it barks and barks and barks.. which isn’t always annoying except on days when it is..

      btw how exactly does somebody get a piece of fence lodge in their head?

    • CheritaChen says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_MovesHisHipsLikeYeah: Any potentially valuable contribution I may have added to this discussion has been completely flummoxed by the mental image of your neighbors hovering around your parts. Did you have to put that part about hip action in your name?

    • rosvicl says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_FeelsLikeABurningAngel: I’m glad you and your neighbors talk to each other and help out, the way mine do: talk to each other, ask them in for a cup of tea if they’re upset, ring doorbells to warn that there’s a fire, chat about birds and the weather and local history as you walk through the neighborhood on your way to work.

      Those, by the way, are all examples from my life in a six-story apartment building in the most densely populated county in the United States. So, yes, neighborliness is good, but don’t assume other people aren’t doing it because we have lots of neighbors.

  14. TheFlamingoKing says:

    “If it were a private party who had called my mother and asked her to check on the woman, I would understand completely.”

    I’m confused by this statement. Corporations are private entities. Maybe it’s just the wording or the use of the word “private”?

  15. PlumeNoir - Thank you? No problem! says:

    How common does a robbery trigger an alarm? Seriously, what is the percentage versus a heart attack, fall, etc? Obviously, I have no way of knowing this, but I would guess it is pretty low. In an emergency, whether it be heart attack, choking, what-have-you, every second counts.

    When she signed up for the service, she was probably asked to give a neighbor as a contact, and probably didn’t give much thought to the person’s age. A.M.A. had no idea what was going on, but what kind of policy can they put in place? The neighbor’s daughter at least seems to understand this, but it’s as if she’s asking the company how they plan to address the unknown.

    • spanky says:

      @plumenoir: It’s certainly not the most likely scenario, but it’s a fairly predictable one, and the likelihood is obviously not zero, seeing as how it happened and all.

      The point is that this is a big company, and this is all they do. They absolutely should have policies in place to predict that some percentage of non-response calls are for situations that could pose a real danger to people responding.

      What sort of odds would make the risk acceptable, then? If it’s one out of ten non-response calls? One out of a hundred? A thousand? You’d have to calculate how many calls like that they get, and then extrapolate how many people they’ve endangered by sending them into those situations.

      It’s perfectly reasonable to have emergency contacts for known medical issues. Their FAQ says they’ll call your contacts if you respond and ask them to contact a friend or family member. This is a very good policy, particularly for customers with limited mobility who might need help but not require police or paramedics. And even for a full medical emergency such as a fall or a heart attack, having someone nearby respond before emergency services is a great idea.

      But with an unknown emergency, they should absolutely be able to predict that some small percentage of them are going to be dangerous situations that should be left to professionals.

      • PlumeNoir - Thank you? No problem! says:


        It seems we agree, and your second, third and fourth paragraphs echo my thoughts. But it still makes me wonder, what policy could a company have in place for this? I’m sure this isn’t the first time this has happened. If they can’t reach the person, well then, it is still an unknown emergency, whether it’s a robbery or a slip and fall. And it seems they already contacted police and EMS.

        A.M.A. should have at least called the neighbor’s daughter back, though, to at least say they’re looking into the issue – I will say that.

        But it takes me back to what I originally said: what does the daughter expect, other than, maybe, age/ ability verification of contacts?

        • floraposte says:

          @plumenoir: Perhaps the operators could have a basic template to follow, saying that they’ve called emergency services and that while generally the situation is a medical one the possibility of danger does exist and that the contact should keep that in mind if choosing to approach the house. Emergency contact status could also require consent, and perhaps could come with a guideline sheet.

          Ultimately, though, I’m not sure that really would change the situation here. Unless they said something really surprising on the phone, I doubt the company did anything I’d consider particularly wrong here. If anything, they had less awareness of the situation than the OP’s mom did, and I don’t think that she was “sent” so much as she opted to go out of concern. It doesn’t sound like there’s any reason the OP’s mom couldn’t be an emergency contact, because it’s not predicated on the ability to stop burglars. It’s quite likely that the OP’s mom, and many other people, would still approach the house given the broader advance knowledge because it’s so much likelier that your neighbor is unwell than being burglarized. And I don’t think there’s any way to preclude that that doesn’t leave all of us refusing to go near each other’s houses for fear of what might hurt us inside. I’m mildly curious what the OP’s mother says about this–does she herself think that she should have stayed in her house? Or are mother and daughter perhaps on different pages on what kind of risk was okay to assume there?

  16. Slow2Whine says:

    I understand completely about the seriousness of the issue. Were it my mother, I would be alarmed.

    But I was laughing my ass off for 2 minutes at the graphic associated to the article. I’m sorry, but the graphic was too funny.

  17. WorldHarmony says:

    How did the company have the neighbor’s number? My guess is that the customer of the alarm company listed her able-bodied neighbor as an emergency contact. If so, it makes perfectly good sense that, along with calling the “calvalry,” the company called this neighbor. Furthermore, it sounds as if the neighbor made a conscious choice to “run” to the victim’s home and “pound” on the door- she wasn’t threatened or forced. I can even imagine the company asking her to check only if she felt comfortable doing so.

    Sounds to me like the daughter doesn’t like the fact that her mother unknowingly ran into a dangerous situation, and wants to blame someone other than her mother. Her feelings of concern for her mother are understandable, but without all the facts, we can’t judge the situation thoroughly.

  18. West Coast Secessionist says:

    It’s a medical alarm company. What are the chances that the emergency was not medical in nature? Very slim. I see no problem asking her emergency contact to go check on her.

  19. cmdrsass says:

    I think the company acted reasonably. The emergency contact is right next door and could get there faster than emergency services. The neighbor was under no obligation to comply and in the case of a false alarm (which is most alarms), fire/rescue would not be needlessly diverted from a real emergency.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @cmdrsass: i’m pretty sure that once emergency is called they have to show up just in case. i know the times that people triggered 911 from the hotel i used to work at, then called down to tell us it was an accident.. well emergency services also calls the hotel to tell us they are on the way so we can clear an elevator for them. after being told that the guest confirmed it was an accidental call they were still required to show up and check it out.
      i guess that’s in case someone managed to call 911 and then tried to rescind it because of a gun being held to their head or something

  20. pwillow1 says:

    Makes me wonder whether the people who subscribe to this service have ever been instructed NOT to depress their Lifeline button if they had anything besides a medical emergency. I can understand this elderly woman wanting assistance when she was being assaulted, but it’s unlikely she would have called if she had realized that her neighbor would be called to assist.

  21. nstonep says:

    I guess the neighbor was the emergency contact (or something like that). Still…the company just opened up itself to litigation that it will lose. I mean…the cost to call the paramedics is the same as the cost of the call to the neighbor. They don’t pay the paramedic service; they’re just being retarded and have really shitty procedural controls.

  22. FrugalFreak says:

    The 70 Yr old neighbor should send American Medical Alarms an invoice for home care services rendered.

    The Alarm company gets paid to provide these services and in contracting out by asking neighbor to provide services they should be doing should make her a subcontractor/freelance worker.

  23. Skankingmike says:

    Dear consumerist,

    My grandmother who is 80 doesn’t remember being put on a contact list as well as she was sent in for a medical emergency but in fact it was a robbery. Next time I wish the alarm company to have foresight to know, because what if there had been a bear in there?

  24. Thricebanned says:

    Does this outfit offer robot insurance as well?

  25. captainpicard says:

    star trek reference ftw!!!

  26. ElizabethD says:

    Ah, callow youth.. “70 year old woman”!!!!– OMG WTF Halp!

    70 is the new 55. Seriously. Put away that image of the white-haired granny in a rocker. Most of the 70 year old women I know are working, volunteering, fast-walking, traveling, and looking fabulous with good makeup, good hair color, and stylish clothes. (Well, there are those comfortable shoes, but never mind.)

    So I’m not as outraged by this story as others here.

    • ElizabethD says:


      Full disclosure of bias: I am the blonde-highlighted granny in jeans and comfortable shoes you saw at the Dead Weather concert, dancing my old ass off.

    • Skankingmike says:

      @ElizabethD: they must’ve had easy lives. The 70 year old’s I know led ruff lives and do not look good for their age.

      so it really depends how you live.

      • ElizabethD says:


        Well, my husband will be 64 in two weeks and he looks in his early 50s and loves physical labor such as building porches, doing heavy landscaping work, etc. (He is a PhD with an office job during the week.) Some of it is genes, I’m sure. My dad always looked young (no wrinkles); I do, too. But you’re right — a very hard life will be visible on one’s face.

        • Skankingmike says:

          @ElizabethD: I look super young for my age as does my mother, but my grand mother.. different story.. then again she smoked for like 50-60 years? quit 6 years ago cold turkey she’s a tough dame.

  27. That's Consumer007 to you says:

    Not that I want to give the wrong people ideas, but they have probably already thought this up and it’s more important potential targets think about it too:

    This could easily be turned into a phone ruse for would be invaders: Hide out near victim’s entrance, call up intended victim on untraceable cell phone, say your neighbor has listed you as an emergency helper – could you go over and check on them? (With spoof card you can appear to be anyone on victim’s caller id now.) When they come out to go check on their neighbor WHAMMO – you shoot, stab them or knock them out and get in THEIR home.

    That’s exactly why this kind of behavior on the company’s part is wrong. Armed police should be the only ones summoned EVER to a possible home invasion.

    Even if the friend / helper is armed, they are screwed legally if they find the invasion in progress, and happened to “win”, they have no leg to stand on shooting a criminal in someone else’s home (or at least sketchy rights at best.)

    Any REAL security company has experts that know all this and base their policies accordingly. This stuff is nothing new.

    • floraposte says:

      @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: Or you could just, you know, knock on their door.

    • MarketMaven says:

      @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: That is bullshit. The contact would know if the lady she was taking care of had some sort of emergency notification system in her home. They buttons are either worn around their neck or there should be some sort of panic device button around the home. If the lady who received the call believed there was no validity or had no clue what they were talking about, then she should not have gone over there in the first place.

      Do any of you actually know elderly people? Just sounds like a bunch of arm chair quarter backing.

    • ftk says:

      @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: That’s why I love Florida. If you invaded my neighbor’s home and are beating her I am well within my rights to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to stop you. I am sure that deadly force is perfectly reasonable if the perpetrator(s) have deadly weapons (knives) and outnumber the (elderly) victim. No matter if it is my house, my neighbors house, a parking lot, or any other place in this state.

  28. pot_roast says:

    I have the feeling that the company had no idea that the Emergency Contact listed (neighbor) was 70 years old.

  29. chris_d says:

    yes, the company shouldn’t have contacted the the neighbor. That way, the lady who was getting beaten would have been dead by the time the paramedics got there.

  30. MarketMaven says:

    The story does not say that the neighbor was called in lieu of emergency services! If the neighbor was put down as an emergency contact, then they did contact her in an emergency! Age shouldn’t be a first concern. Is it the responsibility of the company to screen all emergency contacts as well??? So should we all sit around and speculate what could of happened instead of what ACTUALLY occurred? Her presence scared off robbers that were severely beating a woman. That is a win for everyone. My grandfather is 80 and if he pressed an “emergency button” and his contacts weren’t phoned other than paramedics and police, I would be pissed!

  31. Deranged_Kitsune says:

    You’d think it would be policy for the company to call anyone on the contact list when a customer sets it up to 1) test functionality of the number and 2) get the person’s consent/authorization directly that they are willing to be an emergency contact.

  32. GadgetsAlwaysFit says:

    I have such monitoring on my home. They call the police and they start calling everyone on the contact list I provided if the alarm goes off and I don’t respond or I don’t respond properly.