Churches have long been known for efforts in saving souls, but a new collaborative effort between area worship communities and Southern Illinois Healthcare also may save lives.
The regional health care provider is working with congregations to not only train church leaders and members on emergency preparation but also providing life-saving Automatic External Defibrillators, which can be used by non-health-care professionals to diagnose and treat cardiac arrhythmia. So far, SIH has distributed AEDs to several local churches and is looking to expand the program.
The American Red Cross reports that improved access to AEDs could save as many as 50,000 lives annually.
“Churches are places where large groups of people congregate and often those people are of the adult age where they might need this sort of service and we feel like this is a great way to spread the word, get people trained and save more lives,” explains Angie Bailey, Community Benefits Manager with Southern Illinois Healthcare.
Bailey says faith communities must apply for the program before they will receive the AED units and supplies valued at nearly $2,000 each. In exchange for the AEDs, congregations pledge to identify a person from within the church to serve as a faith community nurse or a congregational health connect and subscribe to an AED program that supports and maintains the units. They are also encouraged to train members of the congregation on basic CPR, first aid and use of the AED, as well as for the church to develop an emergency response and safety plan.
“One of the priority health issues for us is cardiovascular disease, and we want to help prevent deaths related to cardiovascular disease,” Bailey says.
She says that so far, six churches have received the units and three more are completing requirements to receive AEDs. A new round of applications for units is due Sept. 1.
“The response has been very exciting and the churches have been thankful,” she says. “Many of them have indicated that they thought they needed AEDs, but didn’t necessarily have the resources to purchase one.”
One of the churches that received a unit and training is Carbondale’s First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. Congregational Health Connector Lynda Bock says the timing of the program was perfect.
“We had an AED for the church, but the battery and electrodes had expired, so this was a perfect fit for us,” Bock says. “Now we have a new unit and a percentage of the church’s members trained to use it.”
Bock adds that another benefit of the program is simply having members of the church become ready if something should happen.
“Our church is now much more aware of emergency planning and many of our members have taken this the extra step and also developed emergency plans for their homes. This has been very positive,” she says, adding that Southern Illinois Healthcare connected members with Red Cross training offered at John A. Logan College.
“It’s been great to see all of these different parts of the community working together to make this happen,” she adds.
Bailey says her organization has found that working through faith communities is an effective way to reach people.
“Our goal is that churches will continue to build their health programming in their church, screenings, bulletin boards, etc. how to exercise. So that it really creates a ripple effect. It’s not just about AEDs, it’s about health,” she says.
The AED units are something Bock hopes never have to be used in the church, but she is glad that the technology and training are present.
“I’d recommend that all churches have them,” she says. “We have a lot of older folks around these days. It is an incredibly valuable thing to have and it brings some peace of mind. There’s no doubt about it and we’re very grateful for it.”