By Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal
Placing defibrillators in houses of worship — including eight in Winston-Salem — is part of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C.’s strategy for extending the reach of health care into community gathering places.
The insurer and churches hope there will be a pay-it-forward element from the free CPR training that goes along with the automated external defibrillators.
“Most people don’t want to be in a helpless place when they see someone having a cardiac arrest,” said Bruce Hayes, associate pastor at Reynolda Church. “They are willing to spend two to three hours to be trained.
“Hopefully, the training they get will enable them to respond to a cardiac arrest wherever they are in the community.”
Blue Cross will spend $390,000 over three years on its “Strive to Revive” initiative. The goal is placing a defibrillator in 150 churches statewide and training at least 500 people associated with those churches in CPR.
After beginning with a defibrillator in 20 Charlotte-area churches in 2010, the insurer and the N.C. Council of Churches expanded the initiative this year to 33 churches. The American Red Cross is also participating in the initiative.
“Strive to Revive gives our communities the tools and training they need to take action in case of a cardiac emergency,” said Brad Wilson, the insurer’s president and chief executive, while taking a tour of Reynolda.
A main catalyst for the Blue Cross initiative was the role that a defibrillator played in helping N.C. Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, survive a cardiac arrest suffered in 2009 while in the state legislature building.
“One of the first people to get to her was one of our government affairs people who had CPR training with a defibrillator,” Wilson said.
“A light went off for us. As we did research, we learned that many places of large gatherings didn’t have a defibrillator available.
“We know that these devices are needed in other places, but we decided to start with churches because we felt we could make the biggest impact with its members and elsewhere in their communities,” Wilson said.
Reynolda applied for the program in part because about 50 percent of its 900 members are age 50 and older, and 56 percent of the congregation is female, said Maryann Hites, a faith community nurse at Reynolda with a background as a cardiac nurse.
“Several women in the church have had an unusual type of chest pain while at church,” Hites said. “Fortunately, we have had doctors in the congregation who were able to observe them, and nothing serious had occurred to them.
“Still, you never know when a cardiac arrest could happen, especially to people who look healthy.”
Hites tried to get a defibrillator for the church, but at about $1,750 per device, the church determined it couldn’t afford it.
Hites learned about the Blue Cross initiative through the Congregational Nurse Health Ministry program and applied at www.healthandwholeness.org/strive-to-revive. She said about 30 people connected with Reynolda have been trained through its defibrillator program, including staff members, deacons and church members.
Willona Stallings, the partners in health and wellness coordinator for the N.C. Council of Churches, said “with large numbers of individuals attending places of worship throughout North Carolina on a weekly basis, we have the potential to make a real difference.”
Stallings said the 53 churches have been chosen in part because they serve either a large proportion of women, blacks, Latinos and/or seniors — “groups disproportionately affected by sudden cardiac arrest.” They also participate in the council’s health-certification program.
Velma White, congregational nurse at Galilee Missionary, said the church applied as part of its holistic approach to caring for members that includes exercise and diet initiatives.
“We want members to be physically, emotionally and spiritually fit,” White said. “Stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes is so prevalent in our community and within our congregation.”
White said at least 10 church staff and members are trained to use the defibrillator, with a goal of getting at least 30.
“It’s obviously something we hope we never have to use, but we don’t want to be faced with a cardiac-arrest crisis we couldn’t handle,” White said.