HeartSafe towns are improving our survival

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At the State House today, the western Maine towns serviced by Med-Care Ambulance will be honored as being among the first communities in Maine to be designated HeartSafe Communities.

For Andover, Byron, Canton, Rumford, Peru, Carthage, Dixfield, Hanover, Mexico, Newry and Roxbury, and for Med-Care Ambulance, it’s a demonstration that health-care providers and first responders are committed to public health. It also means that if you live in one of these towns and suffer a heart attack, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, you have an improved chance of survival because partnerships and resources now exist to speed crisis care.

That doesn’t mean crisis care isn’t available in other communities, because it certainly is. Each HeartSafe designation means that the community’s emergency medical service has embraced the “Chain of Survival” concept, which includes early access to emergency care, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, defibrillation and advanced – in-ambulance – care. It means that EMS workers are trained in CPR, have easy access to a defibrillator, and that communities organize awareness programs about heart disease for citizens.

This matters, because fast response to cardiac arrest offers patients the best chance of survival and the best chance of recovery. It also matters because fast response reduces immediate and future medical costs for patients.

What’s most interesting about the list of 38 cities and towns to be named HeartSafe Communities is what’s missing from the list. There are no major cities named HeartSafe Communities in this inaugural round of designations. The largest city is Waterville; the smallest is Byron, a town of just 125 residents.

Portland and other large cities in Maine are working toward this designation, and we encourage them to continue along that path. One in three Mainers who dies this year will do so from heart disease and stroke, and anything that communities can do to reduce that threat by building partnerships and improving emergency response time is well worth the effort.

While emergency medical services have been the driving force in earning these designations, it is not their sole responsibility. Local hospitals, Healthy Maine Partnerships and community coalitions have a responsibility to work in concert with emergency responders and have the resources needed to establish and review best practices protocol in our towns. If tiny Byron can make this happen, there is just no reason that – eventually – every town and city in Maine can be as prepared.

Maine, with its high rates of obesity, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol, is fertile ground for heart attacks and stroke. Recognizing the risk, educating citizens and training emergency responders is vital.

We applaud these 38 towns and associated EMS units for their work and encourage other towns to follow their lead. It’s a matter of survival.

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