2003-02-26 / Editorials

Defibrillator $ Saves Lives

Last month, three students collapsed and died at New York City public high schools. Our hearts go out to their grieving families,whose ordeal is especially poignant when one considers that these deaths need not have happened at all.

State law mandated that electronic defibrillators--devices that administer electric shocks to restore normal heart rhythm--be placed in all schools by December of last year. None of the schools where the three students died had the defibrillators. As of last Friday, only 300 of the devices had been purchased, and none were in use.

Anthony Shorris, deputy chancellor for operations and planning, told the city council that the 300 defibrillators gathering dust in a warehouse have not been installed because the training required to use the devices is not scheduled to begin until April. Shorris declared that 3,000 defibrillators will be installed and functioning by September, well past the state deadline for having at least one defibrillator and an operator trained to use it in every school in the city. In addition, the manufacturer of the only model of the device suitable for treating children, rather than adults, can supply only 100 a week

The devices alone will cost a total of $6.6 million, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg reduced the budget for the defibrillators from $2 million to $500,000. .Adding to the cost of the defibrillators, according to Shorris, is the fact that tens of millions of dollars a year will need to be spent on training people to use the devices and keep persons trained in defibrillator use on duty during open hours at all city schools.

Last week, the city was hit with the first blizzard of the new century. The storm dumped as much as 25 inches of snow on some parts of Queens. Most of the Sanitation Department’s $19.7 million snow removal budget had already been exhausted when the storm blew into town last Sunday night. "But the bottom line is, you spend the money and then you have to find a way later on to cut something else or raise revenues elsewhere," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in explaining how the city would manage to pay for clearing away the piles of snow left in the storm’s wake.

The mayor is correct when he says that somehow the money to pay the bills for crews and equipment on 24-hour duty must be found. No one has suggested paying the Sanitation Department workers who cleared the city streets on a per-street-cleaned basis. They were paid to be ready to do their jobs when the need arose. The same principle applies to the defibrillators and the people trained to use them.

We would do well to ask ourselves what is the value we place on the lives of our children. True, the defibrillators will not be needed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. True, they will not be installed in every school in the system. The 3,000 devices Shorris expects to have in place by September will go to high schools with the most active Public School Athletic League (PSAL) programs. While we would like to see a device in every school, we concede that this is the best use of a scarce and expensive resource.

The city is currently in violation of a state law that was enacted to protect the lives of our most precious resource--our children. While it would be nice if the state had backed up its mandate with some monetary support, the cold fact is, New York City must find the funds to install these lifesaving devices on its own initiative. It was true of the snow removal budget and it is true of the defibrillator debate--the money to provide lifesaving equipment and train people to operate it must be found, even if something else has to be cut or scaled back. More children should not have to die from cost-benefit analysis.

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