Life Alert, whose catch-phrase "I've fallen and I can't get up" has been part of the American pop vernacular for nearly three decades, ultimately canceled its contract with a Tennessee woman after she complained about defective equipment and rude customer service.
Doctors diagnosed Rachel Bramlett with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect in which low levels of oxygen can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmia.
Without her pacemaker and an IV pack dilating her blood vessels around the clock, she could suffer cardiac arrest.
"(The IV pack) can't be stopped for more than three minutes," said Bramlett. "It can even cause death if it is stopped."
She signed a three-year contract for Life Alert's monitoring service. She was to wear an electronic pendant with a button that alerts the service's dispatchers, who answer the call through a home speaker unit.
But her pendant was defective. She had to mash it eight times before it would activate.
She said Life Alert required her to test the device monthly. When she reported the problem to customer service, she said an agent told her since she was able to activate it, that was considered a successful test.
"I could be having a cardiac arrest, and I would have to literally smash the button in order to activate it," she said.
When she protested that her condition could not rely on the pendant's performance, she said an agent told her he could send her Life Alert's new upgraded pendant as a replacement.
In a month.
"That was unacceptable," she said. "After probably about an hour on the phone with several different departments, a manager refused to come to the phone, wouldn't give us his name, said he would call us back, but we've yet to hear from him."
Life Alert's corporate office in California is a Better Business Bureau-accredited company with an "A+" rating for service and product performance.
But we found Internet review sites -- both user-generated sites and medical review sites -- that panned Life Alert on everything from customer service to its contracts.
Although review sites like Top Ten Reviews give Life Alert generous marks, other sites like Medical Alert Authority and Medical Alert Reviews criticized Life Alert for "high pressure sales tactics," "high prices" and "restrictive contracts" that are "very difficult to cancel."
"Never sign more than a one-year contract (for a medical emergency system)," said Tricia Cunningham, executive vice president of Stop Alarms, Inc. "You may not need a medical emergency system down the road. So when you need it, get one, but make sure you can get out of it when you need to."
A spokesperson for Life Alert did not answer our request to be connected with a customer who has had a positive experience -- perhaps even a life-saving experience -- with the system.
But Life Alert's Chief Business Development Officer Wendy McCulley apologized for what happened to Bramlett.
"We would like to apologize for any miscommunication between her and our service team," McCulley said in an email. "We try to provide the best in customer service to all of our members and had planned to send Ms. Bramlett the newest pendant on the market...as a gesture of goodwill, we canceled (her) account with no penalty and negated any further payments."
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