The elderly woman gripped the EMT’s hand inside the speeding ambulance. The side of her face was bruised, and a welt was already beginning to form when EMTs arrived to find Rose, a 70-something-year-old woman who’d fallen down walking to her garage. By the time they had arrived at the emergency room, Rose was crying, hard.
Scott Lepper’s seen nearly 20 of the same calls in the last three years as a volunteer EMT. It’s the same story: an elderly person who lives alone gets hurt and isn’t always capable of calling 911. Sometimes, they can’t afford an emergency calling service. Sometimes, it’s a minor injury that doesn’t warrant the time and money involved in an emergency-room trip.
“It’s an epidemic,” Lepper said.
So, Lepper launched RescueTouch, a help-alert service that donates 10 percent of membership fees to first responders and senior centers. Its newest installment is a fall-alert system called SOS that’s programmed to call three different numbers — not just 911. The system also texts information, like the senior’s location and altitude. He says his work as an EMT has given him the experience and knowledge to run the company.
“We’re all first responders, yet these alert companies are all outside companies,” he said. “They don’t run on the ambulance. They don’t have on-scene experience.”
Lepper says SOS, which comes in four different colors and has a charging dock, has already surpassed its counterparts in technology.
So far, the company, run by Lepper and his partner Tom Franks in Oceanside, Calif., has garnered six affiliates that benefit from the 10 percent donation, including Ocean Park and Sandbridge Beach Volunteer Rescue Squads. The SOS alert system costs $99 each, and membership starts at $14 a month. It can also detect and send a text message if the person wearing it falls down.
Lepper’s been a volunteer on Sandbridge Volunteer Rescue Squad and the Marine Rescue Team for five years and an EMT for three, working as a medical sales representative during the day. But Lepper quit his job in sales six months ago to focus on the company full time.
A native of Springfield, Ill., Lepper studied aviation in college, and was a sales representative for a national car company for years. That experience working for a national company has given him the comfort and confidence to launch his own national company.
Still, he hasn’t always loved medicine. As a child, he squirmed at the sight of a needle. But he was looking for a way to get involved in the community after he moved to Virginia Beach, and when he saw a shiny volunteer ambulance outside his front door one day, he knew he’d found a calling.
“I thought ‘woah, that would be a mountain to climb for me to be not just a volunteer but an EMT running on the ambulance,'” he said.
To rid himself of his anxiety surrounding medicine and blood, Lepper carved out an afternoon to watch knee replacement videos on YouTube. When he felt too anxious, he’d take a walk or go to the grocery store. But now, Lepper considers himself cured. In fact, he can’t think of anything that might make him squeamish.
He says he hopes the system will make it easier for elderly people to get the help they need. He’s seen enough older people take a tumble to recognize the gravity of the situation.
“It’s a big part of my life,” he said.
Kate Mishkin: 757-490-2750 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @KateMishkin.