ALLEGHANY COUNTY, Va. – What would happen if you called 911 and the person on the other end of the line told you it could be up to 30 minutes before help arrives?
That’s the reality many in our more rural communities face, but a new bill in Richmond looks like it will pass this year changing that. It requires all 911 centers to be trained in instructing someone how to do CPR over the phone. Advocates like the American Heart Association say T-CPR saves lives.
In the Alleghany Highlands, first responders are in a position unique to rural areas. It can take time for police officers, firefighters, or paramedics to get to someone who needs help. The new bill would require 911 centers to act in that time in between the call and their arrival,
It’s something most of the region’s localities are already doing, and it’s something the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office is working on being better at. Their dispatch center answers more than 10,000 calls a year. Sue Irwin is the 911 Coordinator for the county and she knows her staff does their best. But, she says while waiting on the phone with callers for help to arrive, she wishes they could do more.
“There’s a lot of downtime, a lot of waiting time, so at that point, we’re just trying to comfort the person and keep gathering as much information as we can until the first responders can get on scene,” Irwin said.
She estimates that about half of their medical 911 calls relate to the heart and in most other places in the state, that triggers immediate CPR instructions over the phone if deemed necessary. But that’s not the case in Alleghany County as of right now, although they’re working on a broader program that would allow them to provide medical instructions over the phone over the next few years of which T-CPR is a part of.
“We have people sometimes waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance and if we can jump in there and provide some type of support or suggestions until the actual ambulance gets there, I’d say probably a 20 or 30 percent chance that we’d make a difference," Irwin said.
For localities that are still behind, the new bill would require them to get up to speed by 2024. Democratic Senator Jennifer McClellan of Richmond is the bill’s patron, and McClellan’s Chief of Staff Abbey Philips said the new bill makes sure 911 centers across the state can provide the instructions.
“if you don’t have CPR performed within a four-minute period, it could cost you your life or it could cause you to have long term brain damage," Philips said.
McClellan’s office said Alleghany, Floyd and Craig Counties are some of the few in the state that are not meeting the standard. The bill originally had a quicker deadline but received some push back later in the process. Philips said extending the time frame helps localities prepare for some of the cost of getting certified.
“We’re super hopeful that this is going to result in keeping Virginians healthier long term and keeping them alive," Philips said.
The bill also protects dispatchers from civil lawsuits when giving someone the instructions. Irwin said that’s a big sticking point for her staff in Alleghany County.
“A lot of them weren’t sure if they were going to stay on dispatching because they were worried about the legality,” Irwin said. "So with the bill being passed that will put some at ease and hopefully I can hold on to them.”