New York City
March 2003

Panel Investigates Deaths of 3 Students
by Tom Kertes

During the first week of January, three public school students—19 year-old Kimario Green, 16 year-old Katherine Bodden and 13 year-old Randy Charlotte—died of cardiac-related problems on school grounds within seven days. The tragic irony? Each child’s life might have been saved by a defibrillator—and the New York State Legislature passed a law requiring that all 1200 New York City Public schools be equipped with defibrillators (AEDs) by December 1, 2002. Why the noncompliance? The City Council, in a joint oversight public hearing by the Committees of Education and Health, looked into the unacceptable situation.

What emerged from the testimony is the gaping abyss between good intentions and frustrating reality that often crops up where politics are involved. Ex-Mayor Giuliani included $3 million in his budget for defibrillators in public locations that, due to the current cost crunch, was wiped out in its entirety by Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor later restored only a small portion, $500,000, at the urging of the City Council.

Worse, “the scale of this law is much greater than we first understood,” said Anthony Shorris, Deputy Chancellor for Operations and Planning in the Department of Education. Shorris added that the devices will cost $6.6 million—and that “there is much more to the program than the purchase of the device.” Quite apparently, discretionary funds must be found.

Then there’s training. The City will have to spend an additional $1-1.5 million dollars to train 15,000 people to use the machines and to have trained personnel around at all times in school and at school events. “They can’t all be volunteers,” Shorris said.

“We are, of course, educators,” added Shorris. “Originally, we had no familiarity with this whatsoever. We are not trained in the use of medical and emergency devices.” Currently, a total 126 AEDs are deployed around the City, with 801 people trained to use them. (Ironically, not a single one of them has been used so far.) The school system has bought 300 AEDs so far, only one-tenth of the 3000 required by law. “We will have them all up and running by September,” Shorris promised.

Even with all the difficulties involved, however, the Department has clearly dawdled. “I’d like to know, once December rolled around, what the attitude around the DOE was,” asked Education Committee Chairperson Eva Moskowitz. “Why didn’t you begin the process of compliance sooner? Were you guys concerned? Was there a feeling of inertia or rushing around? Or what?” First, the DOE was going to hire outside help, came the answer. Then, once it realized the true scale of this program, they abandoned that idea. Then the Department scrambled, too late, to find defibrillators appropriate for children. Then they found there was only one such manufacturer—Phillips—and it can only supply 100 AEDs per week.

“Where young children’s lives are concerned, we have to throw cost-benefit analysis out the window,” Councilman James Oddo said. “What is the sense of having laws on the books if they can be simply disregarded? It’s time to wake up, New York City. It will happen here again. After today, it is my hope that we will be prepared.” #

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