Pickerington Times-Sun

Pickerington becomes a 'HEARTSafe' school district

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Pickerington Schools recently were recognized for taking steps to prepare for cardiac arrest incidents in each of the district's 14 buildings.

Last January, representatives of Fairfield Medical Center's Gordon B. Snider Cardiovascular Institute and the Snider Community Heart Watch at Fairfield Medical Center recognized Heritage Elementary School, Pickerington Elementary School, Violet Elementary Elementary School and Harmon Middle School for being leaders in heart safety.

This month, the district further bolstered its standing by obtaining HEARTSafe School Accreditation for every building in the district.

According to Pickerington Local School District officials, the district is believed to be the first in the country to hold the designation districtwide.

"I look at it being so important for the district, just for student safety," said Rob Walker, Pickerington superintendent.

"The statistics are that one in 50,000 schools will have a heart victim, yet we religiously practice our fire drills and tornado drills and everything else," he said.

"I just feel this is critically important for our staff, our students, our parents and our visitors that we are trained and prepared, ready to react and knowing full well what a heart issue can be.

"Having our faculty take the steps forward to be a HEARTSafe district I think says a lot about the selflessness of our faculty and the professional attitude they take."

The HEARTSafe School Accreditation program is an initiative started in 2013 by Fairfield Medical Center and the Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes Foundation.

It has continued through a partnership between SADS, the cardiovascular institute and the Snider Community Heart Watch by which accreditation is granted to schools that meet criteria designed to ensure safety of students, staff and school visitors who might suffer sudden cardiac arrest.

Those criteria include having students undergo pediatric sudden cardiac arrest risk assessments, development of care plans for students with cardiac medical diagnoses and the establishment of medical emergency response drills.

Additionally, automated external defibrillators must be available through the schools, their CPR-trained staff to student ratio must be one to 50 or better, CPR instruction must be provided to students as part of classroom instruction and education on sudden cardiac arrest in youth must be provided annually.

Sharon Schmitz, the district's school health program coordinator and a school nurse at Harmon Middle School, said HEARTSafe training was offered to students in grades four, six, eight, nine and 10, ensuring that staff and students in each building in the district are prepared for cardiac incidents.

"The staff has to be trained and the students also need to be trained," Schmitz said.

"Students were trained on compression-only CPR and they're also trained in use of the AEDs."

Schmitz said there are AEDs in each PLSD building, and there are nearly 30 of the devices located throughout the district.

The training and devices are needed, Schmitz said, because providing CPR and AED shocks within the first three minutes of a cardiac incident substantially improves the victim's chance of survival.

"We do drills for fires and we do drills for tornados," she said.

"Thankfully, we haven't had fatalities for those types of things.

"Unfortunately, we do have fatalities for cardiovascular incidents," Schmitz said.

"We need to be prepared, and the faster you can respond to that type of incident, the better your outcome is going to be."

The district's HEARTSafe accreditation is good for three years, but Schmitz said the district continues to monitor advances in training and will work to prepare students and staff for cardiac incidents throughout the first three years and beyond.

"I'm happy that we're the first ones districtwide, but the more important thing is that we've taken the steps so that our students and staff are safe," she said. "It's not a done deal.

"We'll continue training our students and staff. It's an ongoing commitment."

Fairfield Medical Center representatives couldn't be reached for comment.

However, Pickerington officials said the district is expected to be honored for the HEARTSafe designation by employees of the Snider Cardiovascular Institute at the Pickerington Board of Education's June 9 meeting.

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