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Training In Emergency Response Empowers Lehigh Employees

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On a tragic day in late 2008, an LTS colleague lost his life to a heart attack while working on Mountaintop Campus.  For his co-workers, feelings of helplessness mingled with their sadness.  For Steve Lewis, LTS Client Services, it was a call to action.

As a nationally certified paramedic and emergency medical services instructor, Steve had skills and knowledge that he wanted to share with co-workers to empower them to act in medical emergencies.

“Our loss really led me to think about the resources we had,” Steve said. “I asked if we could install automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in our LTS buildings and train staff in their use and in cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).  [LTS Vice Provost] Bruce Taggart said yes and we were on our way.”

Steve had a strong ally in Bob Bruneio, then a Lehigh Police lieutenant and now the manager of Transportation Services. Bob is also a certified emergency medical instructor with decades of experience teaching and in the field.  Both Bob and Steve keep their skills sharp as members of the Bethlehem Township EMS squad.

Working with Lehigh Police Sergeant Chris Houtz, LTS purchased and installed AEDs in 2009 and Steve conducted the first trainings. Today, all LTS facilities have an AED. Many of the stem’s employees are now trained to use the machines. Steve, Bob and Chris also worked with Student Affairs to install AEDs and teach employees in that area to become AED proficient.

With interest growing on campus, the Employee Relations Advisory Committee (ERAC) asked Steve and Bob (who is an ERAC member) to consider how a similar training program could be offered to even more staff and faculty. ERAC also wanted to add a first aid component to the program to address non-cardiac medical situations that can arise on any given day.

Partnerships Make It Possible

Everyone involved was excited by the potential to train more staff and faculty to respond in emergency situations, but there were obstacles.

Creating such a program would mean an investment of time and resources from departments across campus. Steve and Bob would need to be released from their regular work duties for one full day each month. There were costs involved in providing American Heart Association materials and food to participants. They even needed storage for the training dummies and replica AED machines.

In a big organization like Lehigh, pulling something together across stems and offices can be daunting. But silos disappeared in the face of this opportunity.

“Human Resources endorsed the program, offering financial support as well as 250 Be Well points for each participant as incentive,” Steve noted. “Our supervisors, Bruce Taggart and Mark Ironside, have been cooperative in allowing us to spend a day away from our work each month.”

Chief Ed Shupp, Chris Houtz, and the whole police department have been very supportive from day one,” Bob added.

Finding space on campus is always a challenge, but Carol Hill in the University Center came through with a closet for the equipment and rooms for the monthly training sessions. 

Common Sense And Confidence

Brenda Bachman practices using an automated electronic defibrillator as trainers Bob Bruneio (left) and Steve Lewis (right) look on.Since opening up the training sessions to all staff and faculty last summer, demand has been high. Each class has filled quickly and a waiting list started to form before spring semester dates were posted. Steve and Bob estimate they will teach more than 215 employees by the end of this summer.

The eight-hour class is divided into morning and afternoon segments. Half of the class works on first aid skills while the other half tackles CPR and AED training. After lunch, the groups switch subjects. It’s a hands-on interactive day.

Steve says a lot of what they teach is common sense. “We aren’t teaching things that are really difficult. For instance, using the AED is as simple as putting a sticker on someone,” he said. “A lot is coaching in observation. We want people to see signs and symptoms before someone is on the ground without a heart beat.”

Bob noted that one faculty member took the course in preparation for a trip abroad with students. In the first aid portion of the program, they go over skills like light splinting, controlling bleeding, and administering an Epi-pen or inhaler in case of allergic reactions.

“The professor wanted to have these skills, and that’s what we are aiming for,” Bob said. “We want people to be confident, capable, and aware.”

Knowledge Into Action

The training program has been well received by participants. Steve and Bob have already heard success stories. 

For example, an employee who was the only person in her building who had gone through the program recently recognized that a co-worker’s need for fresh air might be something more than it seemed. Without hesitation, she called for help, knowing that each minute a person might be in cardiac arrest is crucial.

“One of the things we teach is that it’s key to call,” Bob said. “If you are on campus, call Lehigh University Police (extension 84200), not 911, because LUPD can dispatch the right resources more quickly.”

“You can always cancel emergency resources if it turns out to be nothing,” agreed Steve, “but you only have so much time if it’s a true medical crisis.”

Another graduate stepped into action at a nail salon when she observed a small child choking on a piece of candy. Working from her training, she immediately got up from her manicure, performed the Heimlich Maneuver on the child, and dislodged the candy.  Steve was proud of how confident she seemed. “She told me she was on autopilot and hadn’t really realized what she did until she sat back down in front of her manicurist.”

While recent participant Brenda Bachman, Business Services hasn’t used her training yet, she says the course was well worth the time. “I hope to never be in the position to use what I learned,” she said, “but I’m glad I have the knowledge that I can help if a situation arises.”

More Classes Forming Soon

While all of the spring dates are already filled, Steve and Bob will be scheduling more classes over the summer. If you’re interested in participating, keep watch for an email with a registration link later this semester. Be sure to sign up as soon as you can, since demand has been very high.

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