Phones link elderly to help during a medical crisis

An emergency physician believes cell phones give seniors a greater sense of security in times of need.

By — Posted June 13, 2005

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Dee L'Archeveque, MD, created an organization in 2000 to provide senior citizens with free cellular phones to use in medical emergencies.

Five years later, Phones for Life has handed out 50,000 phones and continues to give the elderly a lifeline when an emergency arises.

"With [the organization] I feel like everyday I save someone's life," said Dr. L'Archeveque, an emergency physician in New Jersey.

Phones for Life, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, collects deactivated cell phones and programs them so they dial 911 with one touch of a key. After the phones are overhauled so that they can't be used to call any other number, they are distributed to senior citizens.

While Dr. L'Archeveque was working in New York in 1999, she came up with the idea of handing out reprogrammed phones to victims of domestic violence. She expanded her effort to seniors after treating elderly patients who had fallen in their homes and were not able to phone for help.

Dr. L'Archeveque said initial money for the effort came largely from her own pocket. But donations now support the program. In addition to a national distribution center for the wireless phones, the organization provides an informational resource center (212-730-4699) for seniors who have a phone from the organization or want to request one. People who wish to donate money or phones can contact the resource center as well.

The organization has handed out phones in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

She said Phones for Life also is working to prevent elder abuse. A cell phone empowers seniors by giving them the ability to call for help in times of need, Dr. L'Archeveque said.

The sense of safety that cell phones give seniors also encourages them to get out more, she said.

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