Schools chief adds health, safety items to budget

Defibrillator maintenance, exercise equipment in plan

January 21, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Among the many requests on the Carroll County school superintendent's newly proposed operating budget, a couple of health and safety items have been added for the 2007-2008 school year.

The school system is asking for about $12,750 to maintain the automated external defibrillators (AEDs) installed in high schools for this school year.

District officials are also seeking about $129,000 for cardiovascular exercise equipment - such as treadmills, elliptical machines or stair-steppers - in middle and high schools.

Although separate initiatives, both aim to further ensure the health and safety of county students and adults.

The defibrillators "are generally recommended where large numbers of people gather or pass through an area," said Dawn Eldridge, a health educator for the county Health Department who is also in charge of the Heart Health Improvement Team. "The school system has thousands of people who are in the buildings and on their grounds every year."

If someone is in cardiac arrest, the machines can analyze the person's heart rhythm to decide whether an electric shock is needed to help the heart pump again, said Ken Fischer, the system's AED coordinator.

"Instead of you having to look at the rhythm and determine it with your brain, the computer determines it for you," Fischer said.

He added that the machines are "idiot-proof," with clear instructions for handling.

The defibrillator talks to users, warning them to stand clear before a shock is given, Eldridge said.

The machines could give people a better chance of survival and recovery from cardiac arrest because they would be on hand during a critical window of time, both said. The average response to an emergency takes about 10 to 20 minutes, Fischer said - long past the three to five minutes the heart could remain alive.

"We have to put the machines in the hands of the laypeople," Fischer said, instead of solely relying on paramedics. "The longer we wait, the less chance we have of the heart actually recovering."

The system spent about $37,500 for the 23 defibrillators last summer, budget supervisor Andrew Sexton said, in response to a new state law that required high schools to have the machines for athletic events.

But the county school system decided to go beyond athletics, said Fischer, who teaches biology at Winters Mill High School and also works as a paramedic.

"We wanted to provide that service for all students," Fischer said. "A marching band is just as strenuous at times as a golf game or football event."

Each high school has three defibrillators: one permanently in the building and two portable ones that coaches and teachers can carry outside, Fischer and Eldridge said. The Carroll County Career and Technology Center, and the Gateway School each have one, too. The school system plans to explore adding machines to middle and, after that, elementary schools, Fischer said.

Yet the biology teacher also emphasized that while the defibrillators could fix heart problems related to cardiac arrest, they couldn't fix other causes, such as respiratory problems.

Since August, Fischer said, about 450 people have been trained to use the defibrillators, including coaches and physical-education instructors, teachers and administrators. The next session is scheduled for next month.

He said other facilities would likely begin carrying the machines. From public pools to community organizations to churches, he said, "these things are going to be everywhere."

The school system also seeks to take an active stance when it comes to student health and fitness. If funding is granted, the district hopes to add more cardiovascular equipment to its high school and middle school campuses, which often lack such equipment.

Adding the machines could encourage students to become physically active and enjoy such activity outside of a school setting, said Jim Rodriguez, supervisor of secondary physical education and athletics. Physical educators have a responsibility to help kids make choices that could lead to a healthy lifestyle, he said

"Having this cardiovascular equipment can be a means to help that," Rodriguez said. "Not the only means, not the answer to solve the national problem, but an avenue."

An assessment would be necessary to find out what each school needs if the funding comes through, Rodriguez added.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said the exercise equipment would probably have to be incorporated into the curriculum, as students have little free time during the day, with short lunch periods and buses whisking them home after school.

"The obesity problem - schools are asked to solve that now," said Ecker, who used to teach physical education. "There's not enough activity outside of school."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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