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County drafts plan to allow lifesaving heart devices

Following the lead of airports and shopping malls across the country, Citrus County officials are developing a proposal to place defibrillators in county buildings and to teach employees how to use the heart-jolting machines.

An automatic external defibrillator, a machine about the size of a laptop computer, can help restore the heart rhythm in a cardiac arrest patient if used properly by a trained person.

For each minute a cardiac arrest patient goes without a defibrillator shock, his survival chances diminish 10 percent, according to the American Heart Association.

Placing the machines in public areas is "the right thing to do," said Public Safety Director Charles Poliseno, who is drafting an administrative regulation that would allow defibrillators in county buildings.

The County Commission will discuss, and possibly vote on, the proposed regulation Tuesday.

"The (portable defibrillators) are recognized by the American Heart Association as a way to help cut down the mortality rate" from cardiac arrest, Poliseno said. "The sooner people have access to a defibrillator, the better their chances are for survival."

If commissioners approve the idea, the machines would be placed in five or six county buildings, although officials have not decided which ones, Poliseno said.

The machines would be used only by employees who had volunteered for the program and received training, he said.

The portable defibrillators are easy to operate, Poliseno said. Once the person tapes the machine's electrodes to the patient's chest, a computer inside the machine decides how much of a shock, if any, to deliver.

The state's Good Samaritan law protects defibrillator users from liability, as long as they use the machine properly and act "as any ordinary, reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances."

County staffers are not the only ones with an interest in defibrillators.

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office is looking for grant money to place defibrillators in patrol cars, spokeswoman Ronda Hemminger Evan said.

"The sheriff would like to have automatic defibrillators in all of our cars, but the problem is that would be very, very expensive," Evan said, noting the agency has about 90 patrol cars.

To help bring the machines to businesses or other organizations, Nature Coast EMS created a program two months ago to provide training and maintenance for anyone who buys their own defibrillator, which costs about $2,600.

"There's absolutely no cons" to the program, said Teresa Gorentz, Nature Coast EMS executive director. "We would provide the ongoing training for owners and users, we'll maintain those records and make sure the machine is periodically tested and checked out for quality assurance purposes."

Nature Coast has not had any takers for the program yet, Gorentz said, but she hopes people will become more interested as they learn about the machine's benefits.

The local chapter of the American Heart Association plans to work with Nature Coast in promoting awareness about defibrillators, chapter president Ray Heter said Tuesday.

The American Heart Association's goal for 2010 is to reduce by 25 percent the number of disabilities and deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke, said local board member Susan Gill, also the county's elections supervisor. The portable defibrillators could be the key to meeting that goal, she said.

"Having people know they're available and understand what they are, is going to be a big reason for increasing the likelihood of someone surviving a heart attack," Gill said.