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Emergency Care: Wisconsin Gets C-Minus

Not all Wisconsin emergency dispatchers are trained in giving CPR instructions over the phone. The American Heart Association says that's a problem. (HHLtDave5/iStockPhoto)
Not all Wisconsin emergency dispatchers are trained in giving CPR instructions over the phone. The American Heart Association says that's a problem. (HHLtDave5/iStockPhoto)
January 9, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – When people in Wisconsin call 911 with an emergency, they could get a dispatcher who is highly trained in providing detailed medical help over the phone – or someone who has virtually no such training.

Wisconsin has no minimum training standards for dispatchers, and the American Heart Association thinks that should change.

Mary Jo Gordon of Seymour is a former 911 dispatcher who worked in the state of Washington.

"Where I previously worked, all dispatchers were trained to provide CPR instructions over the phone,” she states. “As a result our survival rates for cardiac arrest were substantially increased."

Last January, JoDee DeCleene of De Pere suffered cardiac arrest with no warning. Her daughter called 911 and fortunately got a dispatcher who was ex-military and had excellent training.

"She just, you know, had that authoritative voice and was very direct with her, and my daughter said that really helped her to just focus on what she was telling her, and not to focus on what was really happening," DeCleene relates.

The American College of Emergency Physicians has given Wisconsin a C-minus on a report card rating services for a number of reasons, including the fact that the state has no uniform system for training dispatchers to give pre-arrival instructions over the phone.

The American Heart Association is working to change that, and make sure all dispatchers are taught how to give CPR instructions over the phone.

Gordon points out it would help if more residents knew CPR because Wisconsin has so many rural fire departments and emergency medical services.

"That makes response times very long, and if bystander CPR is going on while those professionals are responding, their chances of being able to resuscitate that patient are so much better," she stresses.

Emergency Medical Response times vary greatly, from 5 to 20 minutes, and DeCleene says the dispatcher gave her daughter detailed CPR instructions over the phone, while the ambulance was en route. DeCleene says that allowed her to survive, where others may not have.

"Just the fact that some do, like myself, I am just so grateful that my daughter was there, the dispatcher was there on the phone with her to walk her through it,” she says. “I think it's just critical that everyone knows it."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI