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Proposal Aims to Better Prepare 911 Dispatchers for Guiding CPR

Most people assume 911 operators can guide them through CPR if needed over the phone, but only 50-60 percent can actually do so. (Emmet Tullos/Flickr)
Most people assume 911 operators can guide them through CPR if needed over the phone, but only 50-60 percent can actually do so. (Emmet Tullos/Flickr)
April 12, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Almost 90 percent of Americans believe they can get instructions on how to perform CPR if needed, when they call 911. The reality is, only 50-60 percent of dispatchers are trained to give those instructions.

The American Heart Association is backing legislation to require that dispatchers be trained to provide CPR instruction, or be able to quickly transfer callers to someone who can. Justin Bell, regional vice president of advocacy at the American Heart Association, said over-the-phone instruction is vital, even if the caller already knows what they're doing.

"The reassurance on the phone of the dispatcher to say, 'it's OK if you hear cracking, it's OK if you break a rib. You need to push hard enough to make sure to move the blood,’” Bell said; “we've had people say that without that reassurance, they don't know that they would have kept doing it,”

He said all 50 states are considering similar legislation. Wisconsin's bill just passed and is expected to be signed soon. The Heart Association scheduled a breakfast on Thursday for people willing to talk with Minnesota lawmakers about the idea.

The legislation has already been drafted for next year. Bell said if it passes, getting the training should be relatively simple.

"The places in Minnesota that are already doing that, I think they'll probably follow that lead, or they'll be pointed to some of the of the other newer, nationally recognized training programs,” he said.

The American Heart Association says about 350,000 cardiac arrests happen outside of a hospital every year. And in almost every case, someone calls 911. Getting CPR assistance in the 5-10 minutes between that call and the arrival of an ambulance could mean life or death.

Elizabeth Braun, Public News Service - MN