Review of the Verizon Wireless SureResponse vs Great Call’s 5Star Urgent Response

by CynthiaYockey on March 3, 2014

The Verizon SureResponse device in its wrist strap holder on my dad's wrist, next to a combination lockbox. The combination is usually shielded by a shutter that goes up to hide it.

The Verizon SureResponse device in its wrist strap holder on my dad’s wrist, next to a combination lockbox. The combination is usually shielded by a shutter that goes up to hide it.

A couple of weeks ago I was at my local Verizon Wireless store and spotted their SureResponse personal emergency response system for $19.99 with a two-year contract (or $229.95 without a contract), plus a $35 activation fee. I told the sales rep helping me that I needed it for my 97-year-old father and if she could reduce my cell phone bill enough for me to afford the $30/month cost of the SureResponse service, I would buy it. Thanks to newly introduced calling and data plans, plus a loyalty discount for long-time customers and dropping my VZ Navigator subscription, she was able to shave about $25/month off my bill while upgrading me to unlimited calls and texts, which did the trick.

Usually I do exhaustive research on a product this expensive and crucial for my father’s well-being before making the purchase. This time I didn’t and I was surprised to find when I Googled for reviews after I got home that the reviewers were generally furious with Verizon Wireless over the SureResponse. However, the next day at my dad’s regular check-up with his geriatrician, the nurse said that a lot of their patients have SureResponse and really like it, so I decided to give it a chance.

I had a week to return the SureResponse for a full refund if I brought it back in a condition where it could be sold again as new, or for a $35 re-stocking fee if I took it out and played with it. So I left everything in the box while I spent a few days doing my research. The alternatives I considered were the Great Call 5Star Urgent Response and the Philips Lifeline.

The features of the Philips Lifeline that were the most attractive to me were its automatic detection of falls with 95 percent accuracy, which triggers a call to its help center, and that you can cancel any time with 30 days’ notice. However, you have to stay in range of a base station and the monthly cost is about $40. So I ruled it out.

I found a lot to recommend the Great Call 5Star Urgent Response:

  • You can buy them at Walmart for about $50 or on Amazon for about $35* with free shipping.
  • Activation costs $35, or $25 if you do it online. So the total cost of acquiring and activating it can be as low as $60 before sales taxes.
  • The service costs $14.99 per month (plus tax) and you can cancel any time.
  • The device is attractively designed and comes in silver or black.
  • It has GPS and works both in your house and when you are out and about, wherever there is service by Verizon Wireless, the network it uses. You can enter your zip code on their website to see if you are in one of their service areas (scroll down to the coverage map at the link above).
  • Your call time is unlimited and the agents are trained in CPR and certified by the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch. They support about 100 languages.
  • The call agents can conference in family and friends.
  • You also have 24/7 access to talk to a nurse in English or Spanish.
  • There’s even a smartphone app that makes the service available through the user’s smartphone. The app also can be used by authorized contacts such as spouses, children and caregivers to monitor your location and the level of charge in your device’s battery. This is handy for loved ones who are absent-minded about charging the device and/or prone to wander.

The 5Star is not only great for seniors and people with disabilities, but also children. If you have a child who is being bullied, this product may help because they can push a button and the call center or 911 will answer. That goes for adults, too — on Amazon, several reviewers reported that when they hit the call button while being mugged, the voice of the call responder frightened off their assailants. (Pressing the call button for five seconds bypasses the 5Star call center and sends the call straight to 911.)

The biggest knock on the 5Star is that it is not water resistant and the warranty can be voided by taking it into a bathroom. For people who are worried about falling in the shower, that’s a deal breaker. However, an alternative would be to take a cordless phone into the bathroom with you instead when you bathe and put it near the tub in a spot you could reach it if you fell. Frankly, that’s a smart idea for everyone.

Ultimately I decided to keep the Verizon SureResponse as the best fit for our needs. Here’s why:

  1. It is the safest one for my dad to wear. There are three ways to wear the SureResponse: on a lanyard around your neck, a belt clip or on a wrist strap. My father has a pacemaker and the FDA advises against having a cell phone within six inches of pacemakers, so he can’t wear a device on a lanyard around his neck. Arthritis has limited his dexterity, so he can’t wear a device on a belt clip. While I think the design of the SureResponse wrist strap can be improved, it’s the safest way for my father to wear a personal emergency response device. Plus, when it’s on his wrist, if he ever needs it, just seeing it will remind him it’s there for him — he won’t have to remember he has it. Remembering you have a device that gets you help is harder than you think when you’re stunned from a fall, or you’re about to black out, so that’s a big deal.
  2. Now I can call my father when I’m out of the house. When you set up the device online, you can designate a list of authorized caregivers and specify which ones are allowed to call the person using the device. Non-emergency calls to and from the device are called “convenience calling.” The monthly fee includes unlimited emergency calls and 60 minutes of convenience calls (with additional minutes billed at 45 cents per minute). All calls go through the SureResponse Call Center. That means that the device user can ask the Call Center operator to place a call for them, such as to a relative, doctor or store, and the operator patches it through. It also means that authorized caregivers can call the Call Center and get patched through to the device user, since the device is a small cell phone. Since only authorized caregivers have permission to get through, this protects the wearer from predatory sales calls and phone scammers, who particularly target the elderly.**
  3. The speaker on the device has a volume control button and excellent sound, which my father can hear and understand, despite being hard of hearing.
  4. The SureResponse works in and out of the house, wherever there is Verizon Wireless service.
  5. The SureResponse device is water-resistant. Verizon says you can wear it in the shower, although you cannot submerge it in water. I wouldn’t push it, but this gives it an edge over the 5Star.
  6. You don’t have to remove the device from the wrist strap (or lanyard) to charge it. You do have to take it off the belt clip to charge it, but you don’t have to remove it from the plastic holder. This is great for people with limited manual dexterity.
  7. I don’t care that SureResponse doesn’t take any medical information about you at all and doesn’t have nurses on call. When I created my father’s SureResponse online profile, in the box for special directions to the house, I put the information on where to find our ER go bag, which has copies of my dad’s healthcare power-of-attorney; a list of his diagnoses, medications and doctors; and photocopies of his insurance cards. I suggest putting information like this in page protectors in a small three-ring binder, with colored tabs to separate them, and keeping it in your own ER go bag.

By the way, another piece of the puzzle for ensuring a loved one can get emergency help is making sure that no one has to break down your front door to determine if he or she is OK. A pricey option, if you have a smartphone, is to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and swap out your locks for ones that can be operated via your smartphone. One flaw in that plan is that people have to be able to get through to you to unlock the door remotely. However, for $30 you can buy a lockbox that opens with a combination, which you can change at any time. There are models that lock onto round doorknobs (but not lever ones), or which you can screw into a wall. You also have the option of buying the lockbox and hiding it wherever you want — just put the instructions on where to find it, along with the combination, in your SureResponse profile online in the box for special directions to your home.

You also have to let your authorized caregivers know where to find the lockbox and give them the combination. Since the SureResponse operators have no way to verify their identity over the phone, if you don’t give your authorized caregivers that information, the operator will have to call the police to the home to verify their identity before giving the police officer the combination. One option for helping your authorized caregivers keep the combination handy is to buy an inkjet-printable magnetic sheet at Staples or Office Depot and write the information they need on it so they can put it on their refrigerator.

I did have some frustrations in getting started with the SureResponse:

  • When I first charged the device, after a few hours I expected it to say, “Fully charged,” but even after 24 hours it never did. Tech support suggested two reasons for that: (1), it hadn’t been registered yet, so it kept searching to connect with the system, or (2), the signal reaching the charging base was weak, so the phone was constantly searching for a signal. It was probably the former since it now tells me when it is fully charged. Either way, if it’s constantly searching, it won’t be able to get to a 100 percent charge, but when you see four bars for the charge, you may consider it fully charged.
  • You get two charging stations with the device. The instructions say you need to plug the main charging station into a landline jack. But you don’t. When the product was designed, Verizon planned to deliver software upgrades and whatnot to the device via a landline. Then they decided to do it wirelessly, but not change the design of the product or the instructions or put any kind of notice in the box at all that it doesn’t need to be connected to a landline. Sigh. Just put the main charger in a place in your home where it will get a strong wireless signal. I put the main charger near a front window and the travel charger at my father’s bedside, so he can take the device off at night, charge it and still have it handy. (Since your loved one may get up in the night to get up to go to the bathroom and be in too much of a hurry to put the device on, it’s a good idea to keep a cordless phone in the bathroom at night.)
  • When I was going through the online process of registering the device I got caught in an infinite loop because the process was set up for the purchaser and caregiver to be two different persons and it wanted two different e-mail addresses for those roles, but was too coy to say so. Eventually, the tech support available by phone got me through the process.
  • When I first put the device into its holder on the wrist strap, the two pieces of the lock when flying. I’m not rough with equipment, so I was astonished. I called customer service. They were very pleasant and said it was under warranty and they’d send another wrist strap out right away, I’ll just have to return the old one in the box the replacement comes in. Since you don’t have to take the device out of its holder to charge it and therefore don’t have to use the lock every day, I can live with that. I also cut a small strip of duct tape and put it over the spot where the lock was and onto the device on both sides to hold it in place because belt and suspenders.

The bottom line is that the Verizon SureResponse is a worthy product and suits our needs. I like how our SureResponse test calls have been handled. SureResponse has been on the market for two years now and I expect it to get even better when Verizon stops treating it like a redheaded stepchild. I also hope to see Verizon double the number of convenience call minutes for the same price.

*This is an affiliate link. If you buy this or any other product from Amazon after clicking this link, I will receive a small commission at no extra expense to you and I will be very grateful.

**If you have gullible and/or compliant people in your home whom you want to protect from phone scammers, another option of the Verizon FiOS telephone service is a “Do Not Disturb” feature. It is supposed to allow you to fill in online up to 10 phone numbers that are permitted to ring through, while all others go straight to voicemail. However, there’s no place on the web page for the “Do Not Disturb” service to fill in any phone numbers. Oops. When they fix that, “Do Not Disturb” plus “Incoming Call Block,” which allows you to block all anonymous calls, will prevent phone scammers from getting through to your vulnerable loved ones.

If this post was helpful to you, please donate any amount you can. This week I am seeking donations to attend CPAC from March 6 to 8. Donations after that will go toward buying a laptop so I can work while minding the stove when I cook or while sitting with my father to monitor him and keep him company. Thank you for your generosity!

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Jackie Wellfonder March 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Shared, donated, and asking others to do the same! Great review Cynthia! I really hope I get to see you at CPAC!

Cynthia Yockey March 3, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Thank you, Jackie! I really appreciate it!

I should have mentioned in my post for any new readers that I’m trying to re-boot my life while providing care for my father after many years of caring for dying loved ones while in poor health myself. Donations from my readers put the tools in my hands that I used to re-gain my health, now I’m asking for donations that will help me get the tools to be able to support myself when Dad goes. Getting to CPAC this week to network is part of that and I always seem to be able to make a contribution, so I hope I’ll get the donations I need to attend all three days. I only have $575 more to go!

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