Portable defibrillators will help city workers

Hospital invests $40,000 for a dozen devices

Maine Medical Center in Portland will spend about $40,000 to buy one dozen automatic portable defibrillators to put in major locations around the city in an effort to reduce the rate of death from cardiac arrest. In addition to being placed in key venues such as the Portland Civic Center, they will also be located in the facilities of large employers around the city.

"We felt the efficacy of these devices in preventing deaths and resuscitating patients from cardiac arrest is so compelling that we should put them in areas where there was a high concentration of people, thus extending our cardiac care unit out into the community," says Gus Lambrew, MD, director of cardiology at Maine Medical.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a particular problem in rural states like Maine, where victims often have to be transported significant distances to reach a hospital. Because of challenges like these, the cardiac survival rate in Maine is lower than the national average. "If you have an arrest, one foot can be too great a distance," says Lambrew. "What this tries to address is to reduce as much possible — even by minutes — the time it takes to receive assistance. This will even improve response time over and above what the rescue squad can provide."

Many of the defibrillators will be placed in corporate facilities, notes Lambrew. "The Hanniford Brothers, a large employer, and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield will get defibrillators for their headquarters buildings as well," he says. Every individual in a workplace who will be responsible for using the defibrillators will receive some training from the medical center staff, says Lambrew. "And it can’t be just one person at each location," he notes. "You need to have some backup — people who are trained in both in CPR and in defribrillation."

How many lives can these defibrillators save a year? "It’s kind of hard to determine that unless you know what the baseline is," Lambrew concedes. "Some of that information is only now coming out in studies by the National Heart Institute. A large-scale study is also being done to determine the most effective place to have portable defibrillators."

However, the information currently available has more than convinced Lambrew this investment will be worthwhile. "We already know they work when you put them in a police car," he notes, "And in Rochester, MN, when first responders were provided with the devices, the rate of survival went up to about 20%." By comparison, he says, the survival rate in Seattle, where there is a well-organized system involving both the fire department and public CPR education, the rate is more than 17%.

Efforts are being made at the state level to support deployment of portable defibrillators in rural areas throughout Maine. Lambrew says he hopes his program will lead to a number of other hospital-sponsored programs, so that a real dent can be made in the rate of deaths from sudden cardiac arrest.

[For more information, contact: Gus Lambrew, MD, director of cardiology, Maine Medical Center, 22 Bramhall St., Portland, ME 04102. Telephone: (207) 871-0111.]