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The Heart of Your Community

February is a month filled with thoughts of hearts and love. Once upon a time in grade school, February was the month we got to celebrate Valentine's Day in a number of ways. We would spend time decorating a shoebox to hold all the valentines or candy we received from our fellow students. We addressed valentines to our classmates that were either purchased or hand-made and delivered them to their decorated shoeboxes. On Valentine's Day, or the day closest to it, we had a class party. So how does that relate to your role as an EMS Manager? My recommendation is to take this month to develop some programs that directly affects the heart of your community.

First, if you don't provide CPR training to members of your community, what would you need to implement this program? Whether you can provide classes on a monthly basis or only twice a year, it is important to be active in your community in helping train as many people in CPR as possible. You might consider partnering with a local hospital to help train family members of heart attack patients in how to perform CPR after their loved one gets out of the hospital. Their peace of mind and confidence to help a loved one in the event of a repeat cardiac event is not only important to them, but it is also great customer service provided by your organization. As a part of a community CPR effort, look for ways to recognize those citizens who help in an emergency.

Second, does your community have a public access to defibrillation (PAD), or heart-safe community program? Do you have a number of automatic external defibrillators located in either public buildings or businesses that provide for rapid use prior to the arrival of your ambulance service? One of the keys in the chain of survival is for early defibrillation to those patients who collapse in cardiac arrest. Even with the best response times, the ambulance can't arrive before a patient could have an AED applied. If you would like to obtain more information about the establishment of a community AED program, there are a number of resources available. The American Heart Association and other communities who already have programs in place can be areas of where to gather information. It is important for your agency to be involved in the establishment of AEDs in your community, as they will affect your patient outcomes.

In some special cases, EMS agencies are offering the use of a loaner AED to families in their community for up to six months after a heart patient gets out of the hospital. They train the family members to use it, and in the event the patient has a problem they are prepared to provide temporary help until the ambulance arrives.

In many communities, February is Heart Healthy month, and organizations pay special attention to promoting individual health in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. Your organization could sponsor blood pressure screening at your stations or at community events. Having members of your organization in uniform out in the community, checking blood pressures and giving each person a special card with your agency name or logo on it, reminds them of the blood pressure reading and promotes your organization.

Like the Valentine's parties I attended in school, another way would be to hold an open house (party) and invite members of the community to come and learn about the risk factors and ways to prevent heart disease. Besides providing refreshments and heart healthy information, you can relate to them the need for a greater awareness of heart disease and the importance of early detection and quick response in the event a cardiac event occurs. With an estimated 500,000 cardiac-related deaths each year and half that number occurring before the patient reaches a hospital, it is important to educate them on calling 9-1-1 in an emergency.

Along with those special programs, February is also a good month to help sponsor a community blood drive at your agency. Most communities and hospitals are in constant need of blood donors. Getting your organization and employees active in the community blood-drive effort makes for a healthier society.

So where to start? Find out who in your organization might be interested in developing or coordinating one or all of these special projects, set them to task and get out of their way. Every opportunity you can take to interact with your citizens in a non-emergency setting can make them better prepared, more aware and proactive in protecting their health.

Helen Keller is quoted as saying "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."

Keep as many hearts beating in your community as you can by actively working to prevent and protect them on a daily basis.

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