Life-Saving Heart Devices Absent From Many Hotels

You're much more likely to find a 24-hour concierge, room service and a fully stocked minibar during your next hotel stay than an automated external defibrillator.

AEDs, used to restart a faltering heart and estimated by doctors to dramatically increase the chances of surviving a heart attack, are hard to find in a place where people are likely to need them the most: hotels.

AED advocates say that while many other places, including airlinesmalls, schools and federal buildings, have embraced programs that train their employees to operate the life-saving devices, hotels and resorts still resist them, citing liability concerns.

"The travel and tourism industry has a good track record for making AEDs available, starting with the airlines and major airports, as well as shopping malls, golf courses, health clubs and amusement parks," said Chris Chiames, the executive director of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association.

"In general, hotels have not followed suit," said Chiames.

A representative from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, an advocacy group that represents hotel owners, said that lodging facilities have not uniformly decided to provide training and AEDs because they worry about being sued if employees operate the devices incorrectly.

"Some of the hotels have serious concerns about liability and the lack of a strong, national Good Samaritan protection," said Joe McInerney, the president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

"They're worried they'll hurt someone by using an AED and face a tremendous liability lawsuit," said McInerney.

Good Samaritan laws, which protect bystanders from liability for accidental harm done while trying to help other people, would not apply to hotel employees who would have to be trained to use AEDS, said attorney Neil Rosen, a Pittsburgh-based trial lawyer at Rosen Louik & Perry.

According to Rosen, hotels could be held accountable for a staff member's misuse of an AED because they would not be considered "bystanders" to the incident and therefore would not be covered by the good Samaritan laws.

Hotels' lack of interest "in having AEDs stems from the fact that they'd not only have to train their staff on how to use them but that if the staff makes a mistake and ends up killing someone or not properly using them then they potentially have tort liability as a result of their negligence," said Rosen.

AEDs' Effectiveness Outweighs Minor Risk of Misuse, Advocates Say

Mary Fran Hazinski, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, one of the biggest advocates for placing AEDs in all public places, said that fears over misuse of the equipment are overblown.

"AEDs are very easy to use," said Hazinski, who is also a clinical nurse specialist at Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital.

"When you open the device's cover and turn it on, there is sound and visual cues as to what to do," said Hazinski, who said the devices, which are about the size of a laptop PC, cost $1,200 to $1,800. "A voice comes on and literally instructs the bystander about the appropriate actions."

Hazinski said that some research has shown that elementary school students had no problems operating the machines and that one study done in the United States that involved training almost 20,000 lay-rescuers reported zero incidents of inappropriate shocks or failures to shock.

"If bystanders start CPR right away they can double or triple survival," said Hazinski. "And the additional use of an AED before EMS arrives can further increase survival."

About 15 to 20 percent of cardiac arrests will occur outside the home, many in public locations, according to Hazinski.

Hotels Respond to AED Criticism

In a statement, Choice Hotels International, which operates chains such as Econo Lodge and Comfort Inns, said that they do not mandate that AEDs be present at their properties.

"Choice Hotels International Inc. is a hotel franchiser," read the statement. "As such, all of our hotels are individually owned and operated and we do not mandate the purchase of AED defibrillators for any of our franchisees. All of our franchised hotel operators are required to comply with all local, state and federal laws and regulations applicable to the operation of their hotels."

A spokesperson for Hyatt said in a statement that the company is "in the process of finalizing guidelines for our hotels about the appropriate deployment of AEDs" and is in "compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements regarding AEDs.

"Hyatt is committed to providing a safe environment for its guests and employees," read the statement. "Many of our properties have installed automatic external defibrillators and trained associates in the use of the equipment. We recognize the potential benefit of an AED program in all public spaces, not just in hotels."

Natasha Gullett, a spokesperson for the InterContinental Hotel Group, told that there are currently "no standards in place for requiring IHG hotels to have AEDs, but the matter is currently under review."

Also contacted for comment regarding the prevalence of AEDs in their hotels, Starwood Hotels, Hilton, and Marriot did not immediately respond.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association's McInerney said he believes the hotel industry is getting a bad rap because it has yet to implement an overarching policy regarding AEDs but said it had good reason not to.

"This does not project the industry as responsible as we really are," said McInerney. "We're worried about liability issues, and if that could be addressed then we'd be happy to think about initiatives."

McInerney said that he's sent a letter to Chiames at the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association -- who contacted him a few weeks ago -- and agreed to sit down and discuss possible AED programs.

Chiames sent several other letters to other hotel chains, many of which also contacted, and reports having received no responses.

"Liability is a phantom argument," said Chiames.

"Cardiac arrest is the leading killer in the United States, and other industries have effectively begun implementing programs to respond," he said.

"As you travel you just assume there are processes and systems in place to respond to emergencies, but in many hotels there aren't."