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  • October 23, 2007

Workplace Responders assist in more than 12 medical emergencies at BCBSND

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota board members learned firsthand the value of an internal emergency response program while conducting a board meeting earlier this year at BCBSND in Fargo. The company had developed the Workplace Responder program to train employees in emergency medical assistance and to educate every employee on what to do if there is a medical emergency or traumatic injury in their building.

Just minutes after the board learned about BCBSND's new Workplace Responder program, board member Dr. Julie Blehm collapsed. In addition to being a BCBSND board member, Blehm is director of the Internal Medicine Residency Outpatient Clinic and Chronic Disease Management at MeritCare Health System, Fargo.

Immediately after Blehm's collapse, which was due to diabetes-related causes, another physician board member came to her aid in the BCBSND board room until Blehm received help from employees trained in emergency medical response and an ambulance arrived. (Blehm granted permission to use her information in this story.)

Medical emergencies such as sudden cardiac arrest, seizures and insulin shock can occur anytime in any workplace. "Since the program began in 2006, our Workplace Responders have responded to more than a dozen medical emergencies in our buildings," said Randy Johnson, vice president of human resources at BCBSND. "In the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota Building we have 961 employees, and at out our Noridian Administrative Services Building there's another 530 people, so medical emergencies happen fairly often around here," Johnson said.

"We're very pleased with the Workplace Responder program and the level of involvement among employees," Johnson added, "and I am happy with responders' level of readiness when they're called in an emergency."

BCBSND recently observed the one-year anniversary of its Workplace Responder program. The company employs 2,461 people at more than 25 offices in 12 states, and so far 136 employee volunteers have trained to be Workplace Responders. Workplace Responders train for 16 hours in emergency medical procedure with instructors from F-M Ambulance Service, Fargo. The Workplace Responder course is designed to be an intermediate course between the American Heart Association basic life support courses and the 40-hour First Responder course.

After BCBSND's Workplace Responders pass a certification course, they can respond to the scene of a medical emergency in their building and use automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and other emergency equipment to help revive or stabilize patients. The responders receive continuing education quarterly to retain their Workplace Responder certification.

Each year, sudden cardiac arrest strikes up to 450,000 people in the U.S. and as many as 1 million people worldwide. Sudden cardiac arrest is usually caused by an electrical malfunction of the heart called ventricular fibrillation, an ineffective quivering of the heart muscle that makes it unable to pump blood through the body. Once the blood stops circulating, a person quickly loses consciousness and the ability to breathe. Defibrillation is the only definitive treatment for this condition, and AEDs can make the difference between life and death; trained responders can begin defibrillation before emergency crews arrive.

Within the past several years BCBSND installed AEDs in all of its offices. "With every passing minute before defibrillation is administered, sudden cardiac arrest survival rates decrease by about 7 to 10 percent," according to Sherm Syverson, education manager at F-M Ambulance Service. "Although not everyone can be saved from sudden cardiac arrest, increased access to early defibrillation can help save thousands of lives a year," Syverson said.

BCBSND also developed a Call2Action internal campaign to train all employees on how to respond if a coworker collapses at work or the employee witnesses any other type of medical emergency. Under Call2Action, employees are instructed to first dial 9-911 for an ambulance (the extra 9 is necessary to reach an outside line) and to stay on the line with the 911 operator until help arrives.

As the second part of Call2Action, the employee is instructed to ask a coworker to dial security or the front desk and explain where the emergency is, to ask that the building's Workplace Responders be paged and to report that an ambulance has been called. Along with their employee ID badge, all employees now carry a Call2Action security badge with the security phone number for their building written on it.

BCBSND is also looking into displaying numbers on its larger buildings'exterior doors so emergency crews can easily locate the door nearest to a medical emergency.