Household income may determine likelihood of receiving medical attention

By Kyle Rich

Neighborhoods often influence an individual’s character and lifestyle, and a new study shows that certain community factors can also determine the likelihood of a bystander helping someone in a

medical emergency.

Researchers observed 29 U.S. cities, not including Chicago, in conducting the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Oct. 25. The study found that those who live in high-income, predominately white neighborhoods were more likely to receive CPR when having a heart attack than those in low-income areas. However, the study also stated that even

in high-income black neighborhoods, people are less likely to receive  CPR compared to high-income white neighborhoods.

Comilla Sasson, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado, began to explore this issue after she trained as a doctor in emergency medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

“What I kept seeing time and time again is that African-American patients that came into the emergency room would have huge delays in their family calling 911,” Sasson said. “When the family did call, very rarely did they receive CPR prior to coming in.”

She said she wondered if this was happening in other parts of

the country.

Data for the study was collected from the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival from Oct. 1, 2005 to Dec. 31 2009, and reviewed a total of 14,225 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. Sasson said that the likelihood of receiving CPR decreased by 51 percent in low-income black neighborhoods compared to high-income

white neighborhoods.

In the course of their research, Sasson and her colleagues discovered that the difference in CPR rates wasn’t only a matter of race but economics.

“Every single neighborhood, whether black, white or integrated, as long as it was a lower-income neighborhood, was less likely for somebody to stop and give CPR,” Sasson said.

The study classifies neighborhoods as predominantly black or white if 80 percent or more of

either race occupied the area. It defines low-income households as those with a median annual income of less than $40,000 and high-income as more than $40,000. The study showed that as income level increased, so did the percentage of those who received bystander-initiated CPR.

Sasson and her team are currently working on another study that assesses the costs that hold some people back from receiving CPR training. Sasson explained that the average cost of a CPR class is anywhere from $50–$250, which is unaffordable for many low-income households.

However, as awareness of the problem spreads and technology advances, more is being done to train people who can’t afford it.

“One thing that might be beneficial is that the Red Cross has courses and free resources on our website,” said Al Brown, a service delivery manager with the American Red Cross. “[We] released robust free mobile apps on first aid and CPR, and we look to reach out to all our communities.”

Todd Malmborg, an instructor at Chicago’s Pulse CPR training, said he has found the opposite of the study to be true and was surprised by the data. He said people on the South Side are quick to help neighbors in need.

“I used to work in the Highland Park and Skokie area, and I witnessed some events that did not turn out so well,” Malmborg said. “I now work on the South Side and down here, I tend to see people get involved more quickly.”

He said this is because high-income residents fear incorrectly administering CPR.

“A lot of people are afraid in higher-income areas that they will get sued if they don’t do it right or are unsuccessful,” Malmborg said.

People attempting to perform CPR are protected under a law called the Good Samaritan Act, he said. Under this act, someone cannot be sued if they attempt to give CPR until paramedics arrive. However, if someone stops midway, they are liable.

While CPR may seem like a complex practice, there is now something called hands only CPR, which doesn’t involve mouth-to-mouth, according to Brown.

“All you have to do is push hard and fast on somebody’s chest to the tune of ‘Staying Alive’ or ‘Hips Don’t Lie,’” Sasson said. “We can actually teach people hands only CPR in less than 30 seconds.”

With these resources on hand, there is no reason people would be unable to perform basic CPR, Malmborg said.

“Everybody should know the basics,” said Malmborg. “It’s kind of irresponsible not to.”