Life Alert summons paramedics for subscriber referrals

As if the job of saving your life inside a speeding ambulance weren’t enough pressure, a California company has encouraged paramedics to also take on the role of salesman. 

Life Alert Emergency Response, the company that gave us those iconic ‘I’ve fallen and can’t get up’ TV commercials, recently bulk mailed recruitment letters to paramedics. 

“Life Alert has a new referral program designed for Paramedics,“ the letter reads. “You can make $250 for every new subscriber referral.”

Life Alert provides consumers with a wearable call button that can summon police, paramedics, or family. Subscribers sign a contract and pay a monthly fee of roughly $30.

There is no doubt that paramedics’ patients are ideal candidates for the service that boasts nearly 30,000 testimonials. But is it appropriate for a paramedic to solicit patients for a for-profit company? 

The ambulance operators and fire departments we contacted unanimously said no. 

“It’s a conflict of interest,” said Sunstar spokesman Brian Eells. Sunstar operates ambulances in Pinellas County. He also questioned whether the Life Alert program might violate patient privacy, which is protected by a strict federal law and carries hefty penalties.

Tampa Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Penny said city's paramedics are held to firm ethical standards that prohibit such solicitation. Penny said the city will warn paramedics that their jobs could be in jeopardy if they solicit patients and attempt to take Life Alert’s $250 referral offer. 

When we contacted Life Alert, its founder, Isaac Shepher, called us. 

Shepher began by saying the criticism surprised him. 

“I didn’t think it was something I needed to run by a lawyer,” he said.

Shepher said his company sent ‘a couple hundred’ letters, but received only two complaints. Nonetheless, he said he immediately recognized a potential conflict and chose to halt the referral program. 

“Within one hour, we shut it down,” Shepher said. “We stopped it right away." 

Two facts remain: 1.) These letters are already in hundreds of paramedics’ hands, and 2.) Paramedic pay is notoriously poor (as low as $11.90/hour according to payscale.com). 

The offer of an easy $250 bonus – half a week’s pay for some paramedics -- might be an irresistibly easy pay day. If you encounter a sales presentation while in an ambulance you should ignore it and immediately report the incident to the paramedic’s supervisor. 

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