Thanks to trained staff, the district is now safer than ever
All schools in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district have now been certified as MI HeartSafe Schools. This achievement means that every school has met rigorous standards for emergency preparedness and response, especially for cardiac emergencies, but also situations such as accidents, food allergies, asthma, or trauma.
Being HeartSafe certified requires schools to uphold certain standards, explained Keely Hoffman, lead school nurse at AAPS. Those standards include having at least 10 percent of staff in each building CPR certified, all coaches CPR certified, and a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) established in each school.
For the past several years, the AAPS nurse team has worked closely with building principals to organize MERT teams and CPR training, and set up and run cardiac/medical emergency drills.
The MERT teams are trained in bringing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to cardiac arrest victims, performing CPR, and responding properly to events like allergic reactions, asthma attacks, or injuries. The teams allow schools to provide rapid, effective responses in the event of a cardiac or other medical emergency.
According to migrc.org, sudden cardiac death of the young (SCDY), or sudden unexplained death, occurs when a young, apparently healthy person dies suddenly from a cardiac arrest or an unknown cause. (SCDY does not include deaths related to drugs, trauma, suicide, homicide, or long illness.) SCDY claims the lives of more than 300 Michigan children and young adults between the ages of 1-39 years annually.
Because cardiac arrest is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, it could be a staff member, a parent, a grandparent in the school, or a student in need of emergency help from the MERT team, said Jessica Gagern, the school nurse at A2 Open.
To maintain HeartSafe certification, each school must conduct at least one emergency drill per year. School nurses run CPR and AED use drills in their respective schools, practicing bringing the AED to the scene and applying it correctly while initiating CPR.
“In a cardiac drill, we kind of simulate that somebody is having the cardiac arrest and we practice on how everybody responds to that and everybody’s role in responding,” said Gagern. “So we can have the best outcome for somebody who does have cardiac arrest—or a medical emergency—at school.”
Every week, a MERT team responds to a medical situation somewhere in the district.
“Every time the MERT teams have responded, the feedback we have received from nurses and principals has been very positive,” Hoffman said, adding that teams have responded to events including seizures, food allergies, broken bones, and diabetes emergencies.
In addition to the MERT teams, the district has provided all schools with Narcan to treat opioid overdoses; stop-the-bleed kits; and trauma bags.
Achieving comprehensive HeartSafe School certification demonstrates Ann Arbor Public Schools’ strong commitment to emergency preparedness and student safety, said AAPS school nurse Erica Brenner, who works at Angell, Bach, Community, and Eberwhite.
“It is a relief, just knowing that we’re doing the absolute best possible healthcare management for people in the building at any given time,” said Brenner.
Hoffman said AAPS school nurses were motivated last spring to get all schools MI HeartSafe. Because school nurses have so many responsibilities, particularly at the end of the school year, assisting with field trip planning and transitions to another grade level for students with medical needs, and various other activities happening, the workload for nurses is quite heavy during this period, she said.
The MERT teams are especially crucial for emergency response when a school nurse is not present, Hoffman said, noting: “It’s very important that if a student or staff member has a medical emergency, we have a team that can respond to them and care for them appropriately.”
She said the community can rest assured knowing AAPS schools have the training, equipment, and organization to save lives when every minute counts.
Patrice Gage said that all of the nurses want to give credit to Executive Director School Safety & District Operations Liz Margolis and Student and School Safety Facilitator Beth Patten for their collaboration in this effort.
“We’re really thankful for these staff who joined the MERT team,” said Gage. “They volunteered to do this extra training and to take on this extra role and responsibility within the school. These are teachers, these are TAs, and OPs. These are principals and ancillary staff. “
These trained volunteers are now an asset to those within school walls—and beyond.
“They are now equipped to handle an emergency in their community, at a sporting event, with their family, at a church function or a holiday party,” said Gage. “The outreach of this MERT team is wider than the school.”
Every year new members of the MERT teams may be added as needed due to staff changes.
Five school nurses now are certified CPR instructors, so they can start leading CPR classes to meet requirements for maintaining HeartSafe schools. The nurse instructors train at Huron Valley Ambulance.