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Johnson County designated HeartSafe Community
‘We have the ability to improve our survival statistics here in Johnson County, and this designation was the first step,’ ambulance services director says
IOWA CITY — Johnson County has been designated a HeartSafe Community as local partners continue informing residents how to effectively intervene if they witness someone in sudden cardiac arrest.
Johnson County is the fourth community in the country to receive this designation, said Fiona Johnson, the county’s ambulance service director. The formal announcement was made during an event last week.
Johnson said the “prestigious designation” comes from the Citizens CPR Foundation, a national program that helps communities improve outcomes of sudden cardiac arrest.
Other communities include Richland, Washington; West Point, New York; and La Crosse, Wisconsin, according to Johnson. Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, became the fifth community after Johnson County.
Johnson County Ambulance Service in partnership with the Rotary-Kerber HeartSafe Community Campaign have been working to improve the survival rate of cardiac arrest by installing AED devices throughout the county and teaching residents CPR.
More than 20 public access AED devices — automated external defibrillator — have been installed in public locations across the county over the last year. There are plans to install at least 30 more this year. AEDs analyze a person’s heart rhythm and delivers an electric shock to restore the heart rhythm to normal.
“Our goal is to make this one of the safest places in the United States to have a sudden cardiac arrest,” said Jim Merchant, chair of the community campaign.
More than 356,000 people suffer a sudden cardiac arrest each year in the United States. The national survival rate is less than 10 percent, but research shows that with timely intervention the survival rate increases to 60 percent.
Johnson County Ambulance Service reported 103 sudden cardiac arrest calls last year, which was an increase of 30 percent when compared to 2021, according to the campaign’s annual report.
“We have the ability to improve our survival statistics here in Johnson County, and this designation was the first step,” Johnson said.
There are 13 criteria that need to be met in order to become a HeartSafe Community, Johnson said. This includes having a plan for collecting cardiac arrest data, widespread CPR instruction, public access to AEDs and response plans in schools.
Johnson said it was a yearlong application process. The designation illustrates that Johnson County has community support and people willing to learn CRP and help save a life, Johnson added.
“We need that community piece where we have people learning CPR and willing to help save a life because it doesn't matter how fast your ambulance service is — we can't get there fast enough,” Johnson said. “Those first few minutes of somebody in cardiac arrest are the most vital, and so we need our citizen responders — our local everyday superheroes — to administer CPR.”
Ambulance service last year launched PulsePoint Respond, a 911-connected app that can request the assistance of nearby CPR-trained individuals during medical emergencies.
Johnson County Ambulance and the Iowa City Fire Department will be holding classes throughout the year for community members wanting to learn how to administer CPR. A schedule of classes can be found online on the county’s website at johnsoncountyiowa.gov/department-of-ambulance.
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