One of every three Americans expect retailers to have automated external defibrillator devices in their stores, where they can be used to potentially save the lives of sudden cardiac arrest victims; two in five expect them to be in restaurants, and more than three in five expect them to be in shopping malls.
The issue is that while some regional chains do have AEDs in most or even every store, most national chains have AEDs only in select stores in select markets according to the results of a December 2013 survey commissioned by CardioReady, a provider of turnkey systems for planning and implementing AED deployments. And the differences between consumer expectations and retail reality could create legal problems and branding issues for retailers that fail to meet those expectations.
AEDs have been in all Brown’s Super Stores since 1999 because “they can save lives,” says Sandy Brown, public relations director for the Westville, N.J.-based operator of 10 ShopRite stores. Each store has some 10 people trained to use the AEDs, perform CPR and call 911 immediately in an emergency.
“We make sure … there is always somebody in the store who knows how to use the AEDs,” she says. The AED devices are located in the front of stores, near the courtesy counter where they are easily accessible. Signage above the machines points out their location and helps communicate to customers and employees that Brown’s cares about their wellbeing.
CardioReady CEO John Ehinger believes that AEDS are not in wider deployment at retail locations partly due to misconceptions about difficulty of use and dated views on legal protections in place to insulate store operators. But the benefits of having AEDs on premises are continuously being documented.
Some 35 people were saved in the first five years of ShopRite’s AED program, and a number of Las Vegas casinos — some of the earliest adopters of AED programs, Ehinger says — are credited with collectively saving some 200-plus people each year.
Not only do companies with accessible AEDs save people, he adds, they also earn “great press and very likely a spot on the evening news because they’ve saved people. That’s a very nice statement about their brand, their people. It becomes a very positive experience for everybody involved.”
AEDs “are very easy to use,” Ehinger says. “Press a button and they talk to you. They have a micro-processor inside that reads your heart rhythm, so unless you are in an abnormal rhythm, such as ventricular fibrillation, the AED will not enable a shock. An AED can’t shock a healthy person.”
In one study done about ease of use, individual untrained sixth graders were put in a room and asked to figure out how to use an AED on a dummy lying on the floor. They all figured it out in about 90 seconds, Ehinger says — just 23 seconds longer than a control sample of trained paramedics.
Brown says that regularly training associates in how to use the machines and documenting that training provides evidence that a retailer has done everything possible to save someone’s life.
“As long as you have the correct protocols in place, you should be fine,” she says. “The good outweighs all other possibilities.”
Raising survival rates
Sudden cardiac arrest takes the lives of more than 350,000 Americans a year, according to the American Heart Association. It is caused by an electrical problem that can be the result of trauma, a genetic defect, a virus or, most commonly, underlying coronary artery disease. It differs from a heart attack in that a heart attack is caused by a circulation problem, such as a blocked artery or a bad valve.
“It’s a significant problem,” Ehinger says. “An attack progresses pretty rapidly. … a victim’s survival rate drops by about 10 percent every minute, which is why it’s very important for retailers to deal with the problem.”
The average emergency response rate can run eight minutes or more. By that point in time, chances of survival for people without access to an AED are pretty slim; for those who do survive, the likelihood of some permanent damage is greatly increased. Currently, the overall survival rate is less than 8 percent, Ehinger says, but if the victim can be shocked with an AED within three minutes, they have a better than 70 percent survival rate.
For retailers concerned about cost, he says a single AED can be deployed to stores, along with the CPR training and maintenance services to support the device, for about $3 a day. “For an average grocery store or retailer with a similar footprint, one device is probably sufficient,” he says. AEDs tend to last 10 years or more.
At Brown’s Super Stores, “AED training is part of our safety program,” Brown says. “There’s an expense on the initial outlay for the machines and the ongoing training, but … it’s just like training our associates continually on customer service.”
Although AEDs are not yet widely deployed in stores, restaurants and malls, that seems to be changing. It’s driven in part, says Ehinger, by “more people becoming at risk as Baby Boomers age, and more people becoming aware of [cardiac arrest] and how AEDs can save lives.”
With retail’s high employee turnover rate in mind, it’s a good plan to train store management not just in operating the AEDs, but also in where to keep them and how often to check batteries. Management can then ensure that all employees know where the devices are located and whom to call if a fellow employee or customer suffers sudden cardiac arrest.
Ehinger suggests that companies also provide CPR training to their employees. Training programs typically take about three hours, and there are options that reduce class time by allowing a portion of the curriculum to be completed online in advance.
Brown calls it “disappointing” that more retailers don’t have AEDs in their stores and restaurants.
“Not that it would work every time. We had four incidents and in one, the person couldn’t be saved,” she says. “But if there is a way that you could save someone’s life by having that machine, I strongly encourage retailers to take that option.”