Guest Column - March 2005
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AEDs: Do They Belong in Your Facility?

By Kristen A. Walsh

A facility operator's decision of whether to obtain one or more automated external defibrillators (AEDs) should be given careful consideration.

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) estimates that 40 percent of gyms have AEDs on-site. These small, computerized medical devices can help treat victims of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Survival rates for SCA victims can exceed 90 percent if defibrillation occurs in the first one to two minutes but then decline by about 10 percent per minute thereafter.

Approximately 85 percent of SCA incidents occur in the home or in hospitals. Since comprehensive, location-specific data about where SCA occurs outside of these two areas is severely lacking, efforts to save more lives might best be served by increasing the percentage of "first responding" units with AEDs. Nationally, as of 2000, less than 50 percent of ambulances, 30 percent of fire department vehicles and 10 percent of police vehicles were equipped with the devices.

Still, fitness centers are among the first facilities being required by law in certain areas to have AEDs. This is due, in part, to some evidence indicating that intense physical activity may trigger SCA in people with predisposing conditions.

State and local laws

Fitness center operators are—or soon will be—required by law to have AEDs on their premises in the following areas:

  • Illinois: As of Jan. 1, 2006, most indoor physical-fitness facilities serving 100 or more people must obtain AEDs.
  • Louisiana: As of Jan. 1, 2005, all physical-fitness facilities with more than 50 members must have an AED on premises.
  • New York: As of July 20, 2005, all health clubs with 500 or more members must have at least one AED.
  • Rhode Island: As of Jan. 1, 2005, every health club registered with the state must have at least one AED.
  • Weston, Fla.: As of March 12, 2005, AEDs are required in gymnasiums, fitness centers and indoor recreational centers greater than 1,500 square feet.
  • Montgomery County in Maryland: As of July 1, 2005, all commercial fitness centers with four or more employees must have at least one AED.

These measures also include staff AED-training requirements. As a result of IHRSA's lobbying efforts, the Illinois, Louisiana, Rhode Island and Montgomery County measures all include liability protection for fitness center operators and their employees. IHRSA is fighting for similar protection for New York club operators and their employees and has won broad support in these efforts.

Liability issues

Concerns about liability if an AED is used incorrectly—or if it is on-site but not used during a medical emergency—keep many fitness center operators from buying the devices.

IHRSA has concluded that the adequate liability protection is not yet in place that would allow businesses or their employees to feel safe about having or using AEDs in an emergency situation. The federal Sudden Cardiac Survival Act—the intent of which was to offer liability protection to trained AED users—allows state law to take precedence. On the state level, weak and poorly crafted Good Samaritan Acts provide virtually no protection for businesses or their employees with regards to AED use.