LAGUNA WOODS – Do the risks of litigation outweigh the benefits of saving a life? That’s a question homeowners associations are increasingly asking themselves when it comes to installing automated external defibrillator devices (AED) in their community facilities.
The AED is a computerized medical device that can check a person’s heart rhythm. It can recognize a rhythm that requires a shock and can advise the rescuer when a shock is needed due to cardiac arrest.
Laguna Woods resident Richard Hunter, a retired emergency physician, said there is a 10 percent increase in mortality for every minute lost in not using a defibrillator.
“I’ve been told paramedics can get (to Laguna Woods Village) in a manner of minutes. I don’t think people realize that when somebody has stopped breathing and their heart has stopped beating, a minute is a long time.”
On-site AEDs save more than 1,000 lives each year in the U.S, according to a study published by the American Heart Association. The average cost per unit is $1,500 to $2,000.
Until 2007, 11 facilities in Laguna Woods Village were equipped with AEDs, donated by Mission Hospital in exchange for participation in a trial program. They were removed after Golden Rain Foundation determined that the cost of training staff and maintaining the units outweighed the benefits to the community, according to Heather Rasmussen, senior public affairs specialist.
That may change. The Golden Rain Foundation board has been debating the AED issue in closed session and will do so again in February, thanks largely to the efforts of former school nurse Freida Gorelick, who is leading the crusade to bring AEDs back to the Village.
Gorelick launched her campaign last fall after watching an Emeritus classmate go into cardiac arrest during a stretch class. When the instructor asked for an AED, he was told it had been removed, she said. “I thought ‘No, this is not right.’”
Gorelick began contacting board members to express her concern. She spoke at community meetings, City Council meetings and anywhere else people would listen. She collected more than 500 names on a petition.
“People I’ve spoken to think (the lack of AEDs) is outrageous,” Gorelick said. “We’re a senior community, and yet we’re below the standard of care.”
The American Heart Association recognizes AED use as the third step in its five-part “chain of survival” concept for treating cardiac arrest. The organization supports placing AEDs in targeted public areas such as sports arenas, shopping malls and gated communities.
State law mandates AEDs be placed in fitness centers and that staff be trained on their proper use. But no such requirements exist for community associations, and many attorneys are advising their clients not to install the devices.
In a 2010 article, community association attorney David C. Swedelson wrote:
“The main risk that most of us attorneys fear is the reality that the defibrillator will not be properly maintained, and when there is an emergency for which the defibrillator is needed, it won’t work. In that event, the family of the individual that died will claim that the association was negligent for not properly maintaining the device, and they would be right. And if the association gets one AED, someone will claim that the association was negligent, as it should have had more than one or located it in what they believe was a better location.”
But some community associations are bucking the trend. At Rossmoor Walnut Creek, AEDs have been installed at each of the community’s five clubhouses and in the fitness center, according to Jeff Matheson, resident services director. “Whenever we open a new facility, we include them. There has been no objection that I’m aware of.”