'CPR Act': DC Council wants schools to create cardiac emergency response plans

On Wednesday, the D.C. Council held a hearing to require all D.C. public schools to have a plan in place when it comes to how to respond to a cardiac arrest.

It's called the CPR Act and was introduced by a majority of the Council in November 2023.

The legislation would require all D.C. public schools to establish cardiac emergency response plans — a protocol that ensures a school is ready to take lifesaving measures if or when a student, staff member or athlete goes into cardiac arrest.

Wednesday's hearing saw the American Heart Association and the NFL teaming up to explain why it's so crucial to have specific protocols to deal with cardiac arrest.

"What we know now is just having an AED or people trained in CPR might not be enough," said Stuart Berlow with the American Heart Association. "We need to have a plan in place so when there is that emergency, people know what to do, people are prepared to jump into action and save a life."

According to the AHA, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur every year in the United States and 23,000 of them occur among youth under age 18.

And data shows that bystander CPR can double or triple survival rates. In fact, FEMS reports nearly 700 cardiac arrests in 2023, with only an 8.3% survival rate. But when prompt CPR was provided before FEMS arrival, survival rates increased to 44%, per AHA statistics.

What really brought this to the forefront was the case of Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills player who suffered cardiac arrest last year during Monday Night Football. People who were trained and nearby saved his life.

That's what happened with Delya Sommerville. The D.C. resident was on her normal run when she suffered sudden cardiac arrest right outside the U.S. Capitol.

Thankfully, Capitol Police and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler conducted CPR, used an AED, and saved her life when her heart stopped beating.

"I'm just here to tell my story and I hope that every school in D.C. has the same level of preparedness that they had on that day," Sommerville said.

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Currently, D.C. schools do have AED in buildings, which has been a requirement since 2017, but not necessarily a clear response plan in place in case they have to use one.

According to supporters of the CPR Act, they also don't have AEDs in all school sporting venues.

"We want to see them in gymnasiums, we want to see them at tournaments, tennis courts, basketball courts, football fields, softball fields. Wherever students are playing and engaged in vigorous activity, that's where we need to have AEDs, that's where people need to know CPR," said Kenneth Edmonds, VP of Government Affairs for the NFL.

Ten states, including Maryland, already have laws or policies requiring CPR and AED response plans in schools.

This was the first hearing for this bill and they're hoping to get it passed and in place by next school year. Each school would be required to tailor the plan to their own needs and create a response team.

DC Public Schools’ Senior Deputy Chief of Student Support, Dr. Deitra Bryant Mallory, provided a statement to FOX 5 Wednesday, saying: 

"The health and safety of our students, staff, and visitors are paramount; every DCPS school has at least one functioning AED that is in ready status to be used in emergency situations.

  • The district’s athletic coaches, directors, team / game physicians, school nurses, and other anticipated AED users are trained in the use of an AED and in CPR. Additionally, our security officers are trained in first aid and CPR.
  • DCPS’ health standards expect that by grade 2, students will be able to "explain what to do in an emergency at home or at school (e.g. if someone is choking or if there is a fire). And before graduation, students learn hands-only CPR in health class.
  • Finally, secondary schools maintain emergency action plans that include how to respond to cardiac arrest during athletic events. Schools provide educational information about cardiac arrest to families whose students participate in school athletic programs."