Alerts to AED responders in 230 neighborhoods were suspended for at least a week, possibly due to paperwork, until they were restored Tuesday afternoon.
That means volunteer first responders could not be notified if someone in their neighborhood was having a heart attack. They are trained to use AEDs (Automatic External Defibrillators) to restart or stabilize a person’s heartbeat before an ambulance arrives.
AED coordinators were not given prior notice that the system was shutting down.
Coupled with long response times on some recent calls by Sumter County’s private ambulance service, the shutdown of the AED response system temporarily removed another layer of emergency medical protection for Villagers in Sumter County.
Villages Fire Chief Edmund Cain announced that the alerts were restored as of Tuesday afternoon through Ready Alert, a Seminole-based company that relays the alerts by phone to AED volunteers in their neighborhoods.
“The cardiac arrest alerts sent by Ready Alert have resumed normal operations,” Cain wrote in a memo to AED coordinators. “You and your groups/responders are currently receiving the cardiac arrest alerts via Ready Alert in the same manner as you have previously.”
Another April 29 memo from Cain revealed that the AED alert system was shut down due to “technical issues” that prevented 911 dispatchers from passing the medical alerts to Ready Alert.
“We are working diligently with Sumter County and our vendors on a prompt resolution of this issue,” Cain wrote last week.
Ready Alert receives medical alerts from American Medical Response (AMR) dispatchers. AMR is a private company that provides ambulance service in Sumter County and handles emergency medical services dispatching.
Gail Lazenby, a retired Villages Public Safety fire captain who is credited with founding the AED program, said he was told the system was shut down due to paperwork.
He said the county apparently stopped the alerts due to the lack of a written agreement, or memorandum of understanding, between the county and Ready Alert.
Lazenby said Ready Alert has been involved with the program for eight or nine years without a written agreement and he is unaware of any lawsuits or legal jeopardy faced by the county over the program that would prompt a change.
“The AED program works,” Lazenby said.
He said shutting down the AED alerts along with poor response times on some ambulance calls could give The Villages a bad reputation for emergency medical service, which should concern the Developer.
Charlene Griffin, an AED coordinator in the Village of Tamarind Grove, said coordinators were not informed before the alert system was shut down. She said the shutdown lasted about three weeks.
“Without Dispatch notifying Ready Alert, all our efforts are worthless,” she said. “To shut the alert system down without even notifying us is breaking the implied promise Public Safety made to the neighborhoods when they encouraged us to enroll in the program.”
Griffin said AED volunteers have been recruited and trained in all 230 neighborhoods. Donations from neighbors have been used to maintain the AEDs and pay Ready Alert for their system.
“Our neighbors have given us money with the understanding that, if they suffer a heart attack, our responders will arrive before EMS, thus increasing their likelihood of survival,” she said.