Governor Lincoln Chafee signed legislation last week requiring high school seniors to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) in order to graduate.
The student training, which will fall under the purview of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, will be incorporated into district health education curriculums.
Under the newly enacted law, the training will include a hands-on course in CPR and an overview of AED use. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will develop curriculum guidelines and monitor the training to ensure student proficiency.
“There is no complicated training involved and no special equipment required,” said Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist.19, Warwick, Cranston), sponsor of the House bill (2013-H536). “Once an individual has been shown the process and has physically performed the function, they will have it forever.”
McNamara, who sits on the New England Board of Education, sponsored the bill on behalf of the American Heart Association. McNamara believes the training will quicken response to potentially life-threatening injuries and help students learn how to save lives. The Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. James E. Doyle II (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), passed on May 7.
“The major impetus behind the bill and the new curriculum requirement was the change in CPR policy to the ‘hands only’ CPR,” said McNamara. “It is simple to do and to demonstrate.”
According to a press release, a study in the Journal of Critical Care found that students as young as 9 years old were successfully able to learn First Aid skills, such as emergency calling and AED deployment. Of 147 students studied between 9 and 18 years old, 86 percent performed CPR successfully. McNamara demonstrated the technique on the House floor using a volleyball as a human substitute.
“There are two steps,” said McNamara. “You call 911, then place your hands interlocked in the center of the chest and push hard and fast.”
According to McNamara, there is no major funding requirement for the program either.
“There really is no extra cost,” he said. “All health teachers in the state are qualified to teach it. They are training students on a basic technique that does not require certification.”
Rhode Island students are not taking a certified training course and are not required to do so. They will be joining students from 36 other states that require some form of CPR training for graduation according to data provided by the American Safety and Health Institute. Students will also be schooled in the use of the AED.
“Every school has at least one AED,” said McNamara. “It is basically just a matter of showing the students the AED and what it does. It is a machine held in a case like a briefcase. As soon as you open the box, it automatically leads you through the process with verbal prompts. It starts with the application of leads on the chest and then tells you when to push the buttons.”
The governor’s signature made the law effective immediately.
A former school administrator, McNamara is confident that students will embrace the training.
“It’s a great option for kids,” said McNamara. “Having observed many emergencies, I know that students, given the opportunity, are willing and enthusiastic about helping.”
McNamara, in advancing the bill, noted the need for trained first responders in critical situations and benefits of possessing basic skills.
“Hopefully, the training will save the lives of more Rhode Islanders,” he said. “The more people trained, the more people saved.”
The House bill was co-sponsored by Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick), Rep. Karen L. MacBeth (D-Dist 52, Cumberland) and Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Middletown, Newport). The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) did not have commentary available as of press time.
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