Former Regional President and CEO of Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, Paul Ebmeier, stands in front of the hospital in Pierre Aug. 14, 2013. Every hospital in South Dakota, including Avera hospitals, recently received automated CPR devices. 

WESSINGTON SPRINGS | The newest addition to the Avera Weskota Memorial Hospital emergency room is always at the ready. And its hospital colleagues know it will correctly do its job every time.

The Wessington Springs hospital recently received its Lucas 2 chest compression device, which is a machine that senses the size of a patient and delivers standard CPR compressions to help resuscitate a patient who has suffered cardiac arrest and showing no pulse or is unconscious.

Once the patient is situated inside the device, the machine works on its own and gives automated and continuous CPR. That's a big deal for a small hospitals and EMT units. It allows two more hands to be freed up to help with installing an IV or check the patient's airway.

"It's huge," said Christina Christensen, a registered nurse at Avera Weskota. "There's only two nurses here 24/7, so in times where there's only a few employees, this is going to be a very important part of our care."

Normally, when a person conducts CPR, they have to switch off with another person every two minutes because CPR is so physically demanding that fatigue sets in.

JoAnn Hettinger, director of nursing services at Avera Weskota, said this machine "doesn't get tired."

"You don't want interruptions," Hettinger said. "It's going to be consistent and constant."

The machine, which operates by lithium battery, includes a backboard that wraps under the patient's back. Then attachments place a compression device with a plunger over the patient's chest. It provides cycles of 30 chest compressions before providing a moment of rest and compresses the chest at a depth of at least two inches each time.

The funding has come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which gave $3.7 million to the state of South Dakota in 2013 to provide the Lucas units. The Helmsley Trust also gave $3 million to North Dakota for rural cardiac care. Nearly 200 units were purchased for South Dakota and about 70 percent of those units went to ambulance services around the state. Every hospital and ambulance service in the state received at least one unit. The South Dakota Department of Health bought the machines, distributed them to ambulance services and hospitals and administered training on their use. Data will be collected to see how well the devices work.

When the announcement was made in Pierre last year, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said ambulances in the state make 43,700 trips per year and almost 400 of those require CPR.

In Mitchell, at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, the automated device began use about six weeks ago and it's been used four times, said Chris Lippert, director of the emergency department, operating room and same-day service area.

"Having that appropriate rate and depth is very important," he said. "It's a very consistent method."

Because ambulance and hospital staffs all have one, Lippert said EMTs can put the device on a patient and transport them with it operating, and there's no pause in the CPR during transport. They're also interchangeable, meaning the hospital can give the EMTs their device if the ambulance's unit is in use.

"The goal is to increase blood flow to the brain and vital organs," he said. "If it's successful, you have a higher likelihood of maintaining the viability of those organs and retaining mental capacity and you don't want any interruptions."

He said the company data from Lucas shows there's a 60 percent improvement in cardiac compressions when using the machine compared to a human.

The units cost about $14,500, and the staff in Wessington Springs said they probably wouldn't have been able to afford the machine without the grant from the Helmsley Trust. Hettinger said having the addition of the Lucas machine and the continued use of Avera's E-Emergency equipment -- where emergency room personnel can dial up experts in Sioux Falls for additional assistance at any hour -- reiterates the advancements that rural health care in South Dakota has made.

"We're a small community, but we have a lot to offer patients here," Hettinger said. "We're pretty advanced when it comes to care, especially considered to where we've been."

Avera Weskota hasn't had to use its machine yet, but it will be ready when it's needed.

"I think it takes the worry from the nurses that are on staff and might be called upon," Christiansen said. "Just having another resource around is really important."

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