Business leaders can help ensure workplaces are prepared for cardiac crises

Last month, I joined countless others from across the country in horror as Buffalo Bills player Dama Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after being hit during a Monday Night Football game. Hamlin, 24, in top health and with no previous medical history, had a humbling medical emergency as a humbling reminder that a cardiac crisis can happen to anyone.

Hamlin was immediately given CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) care, which revived and stabilized him at the scene before being transferred to a medical facility for further treatment, thanks to trained medical staff who knew how to respond. Thanks to the quick work of these professionals, Hamlin was recently released from the hospital and is now on the road to recovery.

While I can’t imagine the trauma of the situation, I’m also grateful that Hamlin was surrounded by some of the most qualified people who were there to respond. When professional athletes step onto the field, skating rink or field, they are fortunate to be in a work environment where trained professionals are on hand to deal with heart attacks and other health crises that may arise.

However, professional athletes are far from the only ones going through a cardiac event, and they shouldn’t be the only ones surrounded by people who know what to do when a crisis strikes.

Over 10,000 people experience a cardiac crisis in the workplace each year, yet most businesses do not have the trained professionals to implement life-saving techniques. Unfortunately, this can have tragic and even fatal consequences. According to OSHA, the survival rate for waiting for emergency medical services to arrive on the scene is only 5% to 7%, compared with 60% for those who are dealt with immediately after a year after the accident.

That’s why it’s so important that we increase the number of people who receive CPR training for cardiac incidents in the workplace. Our business leaders in Chicago should take note of this.

As a former healthcare consultant, when I was first elected as Cook County Commissioner, I made improving heart health and health outcomes for heart patients a top priority. In 2019, we implemented CPR/AED training for all Cook County employees to ensure they are prepared to respond if necessary.

Since the program’s inception, hundreds of county employees, including leaders and department heads, have participated in hands-on CPR/AED training. This has resulted in hundreds of people across the county now being trained to intervene when colleagues need help. It also means they can take those skills home and into the community where they can help save the lives of family, friends and anyone in need.

While this work is important, we need the support of leaders at all levels to make meaningful progress in increasing the number of people trained in cardiac crisis response. Employers should view the investment in CPR/AED training in their workplace as an investment in the future of their employees and the company.

At the end of the day, the greatest asset to any company is its people. While there are short-term costs associated with implementing CPR/AED training and obtaining the proper equipment, empowering individuals to save lives is a worthwhile investment that pays off in the long run.

This training will also help address heart health disparities that unfortunately persist in our city and our country. Although African-American adults are more likely to suffer from a heart attack, they are 30-50% less likely than whites to receive bystander CPR, which greatly reduces their chances of survival. Additionally, men are 45% more likely than women to receive bystander CPR, a troubling statistic we need to change.

As Cook County celebrates American Heart Month in February, I hope we can use this moment to stand together and call for widespread CPR training in workplaces across the city, county and state. We all have a role to play, especially our business communities, in equipping as many people as possible with the tools they need to keep others safe. Professional athletes should not be the only ones who can provide care in a crisis.

Donna Miller is Cook County District 6 Commissioner.

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