Empower Receives Lifesaving AEDs from Univera

Empower, formerly Niagara Cerebral Palsy receive semi-automated external defibrillators thanks to an underwriting grant from Univera Healthcare
AED photo - Philips HeartStart

Two sites operated by Empower, formerly Niagara Cerebral Palsy, are now equipped with semi-automated external defibrillators (AEDs) thanks to an underwriting grant from Univera Healthcare. The AEDs will make it easier to respond to sudden cardiac arrest in people who developmental disabilities. One of Empower’s group homes is located in the Town of Niagara. The other is in the Town of Lockport.

“Having these devices on site allows our staff to take immediate action in a sudden cardiac arrest while waiting for first responders to arrive,” said Jeff Paterson, Empower chief executive officer.

Founded in 1954, Empower is a nonprofit organization that provides housing, job training, day programs, service coordination and preschool programming for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as clinical and preschool programs for the broader Niagara community. The agency’s administrative offices, preschool, community clinic and service coordination program are located in the Town of Niagara. The job training and day programs division is based in Niagara Falls, while residential facilities are located throughout Niagara County. Licensed by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and the New York State Education Department, Empower is an affiliate of the Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State and is a member agency of the United Way of Greater Niagara.

Minutes can save lives when a sudden cardiac arrest occurs, so it’s important to have an AED within reach,” said Art Wingerter, Univera Healthcare president. “The likelihood of resuscitation decreases by about 10 percent with every minute that passes.”

Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart’s electrical system suddenly and unexpectedly malfunctions. The heart is electrically active, but is beating chaotically and is unable to pump blood to the brain and other vital organs. If not treated within minutes, this loss of function quickly leads to death. Sudden cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR is immediately performed and an AED is used within minutes.

“The shock administered by an AED actually stops the heart’s irregular rhythm, which allows the heart’s own electrical system to sort of reboot and resume a normal rhythm,” said Wingerter.

The AEDs underwritten by Univera Healthcare are manufactured by Philips and issue spoken commands to coach the user through their use, and also in the proper administration of CPR. If the device determines a shock is warranted, it will provide voice instruction to the user on how to deliver the electrical charge. If the AED doesn’t detect electrical activity and a shockable rhythm in the heart, it will not allow a shock to be administered.

For patients who present a “flat line” (the absence of any cardiac electrical activity), the AED will state that no shock is advised because there is no chaotic heart rhythm to address. For those patients, the only chance for survival is to use CPR to keep blood moving to the brain and other organs while waiting for medical professionals to arrive. The Philips AEDs issue voice commands to coach the user through performing CPR, including providing a metronome beat to time and count chest compressions.

An AED is a simple to use, yet high-tech device that is the size of a child’s lunchbox. The retail cost is about $2,000 per unit. The American Heart Association estimates that 50,000 lives would be spared every year if AEDs were readily available to sudden cardiac arrest victims.

Underwriting grants from Univera Healthcare and its parent health plan have placed nearly 160 AEDs into service across upstate New York, including at Old Fort Niagara, The Riviera Theatre, the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex, the Buffalo History Museum, and the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. Univera Healthcare also has donated more than four dozen AEDs to area law enforcement agencies, including the Erie, Wyoming and Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Departments.

“In rural parts of our service area, a Sheriff is often the first responder to a medical emergency.” said Wingerter.