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Teeth called lacking on defibrillator law

Kingston officials, gym users, and health advocates agree the state law requiring gyms and fitness clubs to have defibrillators on site and staff trained to use them is an important life-saving tool, but they say there’s a lack of inspections and enforcement to ensure the devices work properly.

“There needs to be enforcement of the state law,” said Kingston Fire Chief Robert Heath, after his department was called by the town’s health office to inspect the readiness of a local gym’s defibrillator following complaints that the device’s electrode pads were long past their expiration date.

“It’s a wonderful mandate, but they need to put some teeth into it,” he said.


Under “Kayla’s Law,” enacted three years ago after a 22-year-old woman suffered cardiac arrest in a Plymouth gym and died, gyms and fitness clubs are required to have a defibrillator on hand and train staff in how to use it.

“I have AEDs” — automated external defibrillators — “in every vehicle we have,” Heath said in a recent interview. “I have one in my car. I have them in the brushbreakers [engines for use in forest fires]. You wouldn’t expect us to come to a fire without water. They are tools. It only makes sense to make sure these are running properly.”

Kingston firefighters have used AEDs a number of times and have had “a couple of saves,” he said. Yet not every establishment required to stock the device has kept up with proper maintenance of the equipment, advocates say, and Heath said some town workers don’t even know what’s required under the law.

He said his department was asked recently to inspect the defibrillator at Kingston’s Anytime Fitness health club by the town’s health office following a second call by a club member. The inspection determined the device was in working order with current electrode pads, but Heath said when he asked the health office what the town’s policy on inspection was, “they quieted up,” unable to state what the policy was.


He said if no other government agency is charged with inspecting defibrillators in the town, “then give it to us,” so that the mandated equipment is maintained properly.

Kingston resident Barbara Augello, a certified EMT who runs a business training people to use defibrillators and supplying parts, said that while waiting at Anytime Fitness for her teenage daughter to finish exercising early last month she noticed that the electrode pads on the club’s defibrillator had expired in 2010. The pads are attached to the victim’s chest when the machine is used. Expired pads won’t stick to the skin, rendering the device useless in an emergency, she said.

Augello said she brought the problem to club manager Jake Pylant and followed up with an e-mail providing a link to a supplier for electrode pads, since her own company, Health Ed of New England, does not sell parts for his machine. Augello also called the town’s health department.

She said that a month later, when she checked the defibrillator at Anytime Fitness again and found the expired pads had not been replaced, she called the town’s health office a second time. The club then replaced the pads.

In a Nov. 11 e-mail, Pylant called the lapse “a misunderstanding” but would not explain when asked. Anytime Fitness corporate spokesman Mark Daly blamed the delay on a problem with a computer order for new pads, saying Pylant “made a good faith effort to order replacement parts in a speedy fashion.” But he also said that, prompted by “this one event,” the company is sending reminder letters to all its members.


Daly said that Anytime Fitness, a nationwide corporation with 1,800 clubs, was “the first national chain to require all of its gyms to install AEDs” 10 years ago, and franchises are inspected by the corporation every two years for a checklist that includes AED readiness.

Kayla’s Law does not address enforcement or inspections, but the absence of inspections is especially surprising in Kingston, which passed its own bylaw requiring a staff member trained in using the defibrillator to be on site whenever the gym is open. Anytime Fitness is open in Kingston 24 hours a day to members, but not always with staff present, according to its website.

“It flies in the face of the regulation itself,” said Kingston Board of Health chairman Joe Casna, when informed of the complaint of expired pads. “If we receive a complaint in the office, we will certainly look into it.”

But Augello said expired parts on the life-saving devices are far too common.

“I have dozens of clients that have AEDs, and I would estimate that perhaps 70 percent of the time there is something missing or not right with their AED system,” she said. In many cases what’s wrong is a dead battery or expired electrode pads.


Another problem cited by advocates is that AEDs are stored in a place that is not easily seen or accessible.

Lyn Shamban, a former area resident, lost her husband last winter when he suffered cardiac arrest in a Norwood gym and no one attempted to use the club’s defibrillator to save him. The defibrillator was kept in an area that wasn’t “easily accessible or clearly marked,” according to a police report.

“It’s just amazing how casual the health club is,” Shamban said recently.

Advocates say studies show the key factor in saving the life of a victim is to use the defibrillator to shock the heart as soon as possible. The chances of surviving cardiac arrest jump from 10 to 40 percent when someone uses a machine close to hand, according to Mary Newman, president of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.

But Shamban said her attempt to strengthen the law and address the “casual attitude” of some clubs was stymied by resistance by an industry group responsible for inserting a “non-use” clause into the law. The clause states “absent a showing of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct, no cause of action against a health club or its employees may arise in connection with the use or non-use of a defibrillator.” That means if a club doesn’t attempt to use a defibrillator in an emergency, it cannot be sued for negligence.

Meredith Poppler, vice president of the International Health, Racquet & Sports Association, defended the non-use clause, saying it was consistent with “Good Samaritan” laws.


“We are not aware of any club that has ever used that language to encourage employees not to use a defibrillator,” she said in an e-mail on Nov. 12.

Augello said her experience in finding so many defibrillators with expired parts makes her think “a systematic approach might be helpful. For instance, why doesn’t anyone inspect AEDs?”

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.