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Expert Column: The Heart of the Matter


The grocery industry today is evolving and more competitive than ever. Small local stores, large chain supermarkets, pharmacies and dollar stores are all vying for the same customers by offering the best products, the most convenient locations and superior customer service. The standards are consistently being raised.

A shift toward wellness formats is one of the newest trends, and ironically, whether most retailers in this space realize it, they're already in the health-and-wellness business: offering healthy food, nutrition coaching, first-aid supplies and pharmaceuticals. Store patrons want to know that their preferred grocer values not only their in-store experience, but also has a regard for their wellness.

Lowering Risk

A vital aspect of wellness-oriented customer service -- and one that sometimes goes unnoticed -- is protecting grocery store patrons from injury, danger and health risks like sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), the nation's leading single cause of death.

Claiming the lives of more than 350,000 Americans each year, SCA has a higher death toll than breast cancer, motor vehicle accidents, murder, stroke, prostate cancer, and leukemia combined. Without warning, it can strike anyone, of any age, at any time -- meaning that if a grocery store is unprepared to react, the result will most often be tragic.

With a national poll recently conducted by Harris Interactive finding that one in three Americans now expects his or her grocery store to have an automated external defibrillator (AED) on-site, it's clear that safety is a growing concern and the public desires to be protected against this great health risk. Although supermarkets can’t predict when an SCA may happen, fortunately there are ways they can prepare and safeguard their store(s).

Studies prove that when an AED is used to shock a victim within three minutes of a collapse, SCA survival rates can exceed 70 percent, up from the frighteningly low national average of less than 7 percent. With only a small window of time in which effective help can be provided, it's impractical to rely on the arrival of EMS, as national EMS response times are customarily eight minutes or longer. Grocery stores should consider prepping their facility and employees with the appropriate equipment and training needed to save the life of a person in need, because their reaction will have an immediate impact on that person's chance of survival.

Implementing a customized AED/emergency response program will help a grocery store to effectively combat SCA by ensuring that employees understand how to react should a cardiac emergency occur. AED/CPR program management professionals can help single-store locations or large grocery chains create simple and effective programs that can easily be put into practice.

  • Assessment: Program implementation begins with a plan. A full assessment of the grocery facility, from square footage and layout to highly trafficked areas to employee shift patterns, is critical. This will help to determine how many AEDs are needed, where they should be placed and how many employees should be trained. Once the devices are purchased and installed, signage should be posted so that employees, patrons and other guests know where to find an AED if an SCA emergency occurs.
  • Training: AED program management professionals can help supermarket managers train the appropriate number of employees in AED and CPR use. AEDs today are lightweight and have step-by-step voice and visual prompts that make them very easy to use. Although training has historically been conducted in person, online solutions are growing in popularity and provide effective, affordable and time-saving alternatives, all of which are particularly relevant benefits to entities like grocers with higher employee turnover.
  • Maintenance: Grocery store management should be sure to appropriately monitor the devices for battery and pad expiration, as well as other necessary updates, to ensure that devices are properly maintained and remain in working order to preserve state Good Samaritan protections.
  • Compliance and Support: AED/CPR program management professionals can provide expert advice on compliance with state laws to mitigate potential liability. They can also provide support post-event by helping supermarkets complete state-required filings, download information off the AED, and other elements required for a thorough post-incident review.

Ultimately, adding AEDs and a cardiac emergency response program to stores is not only economical, but also the right thing to do. Various major grocery store chains have already adopted this philosophy and are implementing AED/CPR preparedness programs in locations across the country. For example, one medium-sized chain with a steady presence in the northeastern United States has saved more than 75 people in their stores since establishing its AED program several years ago. Well-thought-out programs will inevitably lead to similar success stories, which not only drive favorable media attention, but also help to increase employee morale, maintain a loyal customer base and protect your brand.

The promising outcomes and survival rates associated with AED use should encourage supermarket management to take the steps to protect their staff, customers and brand from SCA. Preparing for SCA positions a supermarket as a leader in customer service, committed to the wellness and safety of everyone who walks through its doors.

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