New Mexico Alive program looks to improve low cardiac arrest survival rates through CPR

New Mexico Alive Program Manager Sean Callin checks the accuracy of the chest compressions she performs on a CPR manikin with the QCPR app. (Mo Charnot)

As Sean Callin performs chest compressions on a CPR training manikin on the floor of her office, she watches the QCPR app on her phone, which measures the rate and depth of the compressions and gives her real-time feedback on how well she’s performing CPR. As the program manager for New Mexico Alive, a new health initiative in Santa Fe, Callin says the app has helped improve both her and her trainees’ ability to perform CPR correctly.

New Mexico Alive primarily focuses on decreasing the prevalence of one public health issue: out-of-hospital cardiac arrest deaths. Although heart disease-related deaths in New Mexico have been declining for the past few decades, it has a high out-of-hospital cardiac arrest mortality rate along with the rest of the US, which 2022 data places at nearly 90%.

Dr. David S. Rosen, who serves as the co-medical director for both the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County fire departments, tells SFR he mined cardiac arrest data from both entities and estimates Santa Fe County’s out-of-hospital survival rate for cardiac arrest at between 4-5%.

With New Mexico Alive, Rosen plans to change that percentage drastically, and has set Seattle’s high cardiac arrest survival rate of 62% as a goal. In that city, Callin tells SFR, bystander CPR training played a major role in improving the stats.

“That’s something we’ve not had much of here in New Mexico,” Callin says. “There’s a huge disparity in care…we’d like [Santa Fe] to be a destination to receive good medical care, specifically cardiac arrest care.”

So far, New Mexico Alive has focused on providing training to local restaurant workers via partnering with the New Mexico Restaurant Association, as well as staff and students at Santa Fe Public Schools. In May this year, Callin helped train 90 middle schoolers and several staff members from the New Mexico School for the Arts in CPR.

“We’ve gotten good feedback from everyone,” Callin says. “We put out a very basic survey when we do these trainings: who knows CPR and who would feel comfortable doing CPR before this training, and then measure the same metric post-training. It has pretty much been a 100 percent difference.”

Myrna Barbee-Lee, the lead nurse in the SFPS Office of Student Wellness, says she was “super grateful” when New Mexico Alive reached out to her in January this year to offer CPR training, because she was solely responsible for all CPR training in the district before partnering with the organization. This year alone, Barbee-Lee says, she certified approximately 90 bus drivers, nurses, security guards and health and educational assistants at SFPS. Since January, Callin has trained about 72.

“The need is far more than what I can teach as one person…it’s given us the chance to offer many more classes and get more people certified,” Barbee-Lee tells SFR. “It pretty much doubled the number of people who got certified, I would say.”

Callin stresses the importance of community members knowing CPR to potentially save lives, noting a statement from the American Heart Association that says immediate CPR can double or triple the likelihood of survival from cardiac arrest.

“We have paramedics and people that work on ambulances and with fire departments who we consider the first responders, but really, people in the community are the first responders,” Callin says. “Typically, it takes EMS and first responders five to six minutes, bare minimum, to get to a scene in Santa Fe. At that point, if someone hasn’t received CPR and they’re in cardiac arrest, their chances of survival have decreased 50%-60%. If we could train high schoolers, people in the community and people at restaurants, we can easily up that number.”

In fact, high school students have been required by law to know CPR in order to graduate in New Mexico since 2016, though Callin notes the law has not been enforced—as KOAT recently reported. This August, Callin will be training all of the health instructors at SFPS to incorporate CPR training into their classes, which Barbee-Lee says will give the teachers the most current evidence-based curriculum for teaching students CPR.

“I totally want to leverage my role in the schools to promote knowledge, to promote survival for our community,” Barbee-Lee says. “The folks you’re most likely to give CPR to are your own loved ones, so I think everybody can get on board with the idea that, ‘I can help save someone in my family or a close friend.’”

Rosen says they plan to expand New Mexico Alive’s work through funding they recently received from the Anchorum Health Foundation—Christus St. Vincent’s community outreach arm—to Northern New Mexico and nearby pueblos. His plans for expansion go beyond CPR training, and he notes Santa Fe needs to better develop infrastructure for helping cardiac arrest victims.

“It takes a system of care to be put in place, so it’s not enough to have someone that’s trained to do CPR—you have to know where the defibrillator is, for instance,” Rosen says. “And once you know where it is, you have to know how to use it correctly.”

In addition to CPR training, New Mexico Alive helps students and staff practice using an automated external defibrillator, which Barbee-Lee notes SFPS’ Safety and Security Department keeps track of to ensure they are functioning and charged at each school in the district.

Rosen notes that giving residents an easy way to find the nearest defibrillator—such as on a map—would also help those experiencing cardiac arrest, and that one idea he has is to develop an app that notifies users nearby a cardiac arrest event (identified through a 911 dispatch center) and locates the nearest defibrillator as well.

“We currently have the luxury of having a lot of input into the Regional Emergency Communications Center, and that’s where it starts when someone’s having a medical emergency,” he says. “There’s all sorts of opportunities for us to go from 4% survival to 50% survival, and that’s a ripple effect, right? Every one person you save, how many lives are affected by that? How many anniversaries or weddings are attended, how many grandchildren have their grandparents around?”

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