Business leaders can help ensure workplaces are ready for cardiac crises

February is American Heart Month. Over 10,000 individuals experience a cardiac crisis in the workplace each year, but most businesses do not have trained professionals who can administer life-saving techniques.

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An exhibitor demonstrates a portable defibrillator before the start of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

An exhibitor demonstrates a portable defibrillator before the start of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

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Alongside countless others from across the country, I watched in horror last month when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin experienced cardiac arrest after a hit during a Monday night football game. At just 24, in peak physical condition and with no previous medical history, Hamlin’s medical emergency was a humbling reminder that cardiac crises can happen to anyone.

Thanks to the highly-trained medical staff that knew exactly how to respond, Hamlin immediately received CPR and AED (automated external defibrillator) care to revive and stabilize him on the field before being transferred to a medical facility for additional treatment. Because of the quick work of these professionals, Hamlin was recently released from the hospital and is now on the road to a remarkable recovery.

While I cannot imagine the trauma of the situation, I also find myself grateful that Hamlin was surrounded by some of the most qualified individuals who were there to respond. When professional athletes step onto a field, a rink, or a court, they are fortunate to be in a work environment where there are highly trained professionals prepared to handle cardiac situations and other health crises that may arise.

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

Over 10,000 individuals experience a cardiac crisis in the workplace each year, but most businesses do not have trained professionals who can administer life-saving techniques. This can unfortunately lead to tragic and even fatal outcomes. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, waiting for emergency medical services to arrive on scene results in a survival rate of only 5% to 7%, while immediate attention results in a survival rate of 60% one year after the incident.

That’s why it is so crucial that we increase the number of individuals trained in CPR to respond to cardiac events in the workplace. Our business leaders across Chicagoland should take notice.

As a former health care consultant, I made it a top priority when I was first elected as Cook County commissioner to improve heart health and health outcomes for those who suffer cardiac events. In 2019, we implemented CPR/AED training for all Cook County employees to ensure that they are prepared to respond if necessary.

Since the start of this initiative, hundreds of county employees, including leadership and department heads, have participated in hands-on CPR/AED training. This has resulted in hundreds of people across the county who are now trained to intervene if a coworker needs help. It also means they can bring those skills home with them and out in the community where they can potentially help save the lives of family, friends, and anyone in need.

While this work is important, we need buy-in from leaders at all levels to make meaningful progress in increasing the number of people who are trained to respond to a cardiac crisis. Employers should look at investing in CPR/AED training at their places of work as an investment in their employees and the future of their company.

Ultimately, the greatest asset to any company is its employees. While there are short term costs associated with implementing CPR/AED training and acquiring appropriate equipment, empowering individuals with the capacity to potentially save a life is a worthwhile investment that can pay dividends in the long run.

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

As Cook County recognizes 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, the county, and the state. We all have a part to play, especially our business community, in equipping as many people as possible with the tools they need to keep others safe. Professional athletes shouldn’t be the only ones surrounded by those who can administer care when they’re in crisis.

Donna Miller is a Cook County Commissioner for the Sixth District.

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