Latinos don’t call 911 for cardiac arrest out of fear of police, study says

Language barriers and lack of knowledge about cardiac arrest symptoms were also cited in a study seeking to increase public education around CPR and emergency services


WASHINGTON — Fear of police, language barriers, lack of knowledge of cardiac arrest symptoms and financial concerns prevent Latinos – particularly those of lower socioeconomic status – from seeking emergency medical help and performing CPR, according to a recent study.

The study, "Barriers to Calling 911 and Learning and Performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for Residents of Primarily Latino, High-Risk Neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado,” was published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"Residents of low-income, minority neighborhoods have two strikes against them: the incidence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is much higher than average and rates of bystander CPR are below average," said lead study author Comilla Sasson, MD, PhD, FACEP of the American Heart Association and the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colo. "We need to do a better job of overcoming the significant barriers to timely medical care for Latinos suffering cardiac arrest. Culturally sensitive public education about cardiac arrest and CPR is a key first step."

Researchers conducted focus groups and interviews with residents of primarily lower-income Latino neighborhoods in Denver to determine why they underutilize 911, and how to increase knowledge and performance of CPR.

General distrust of law enforcement was cited as a top reason for not calling 911.

Many subjects also incorrectly believed that they would not be able to ride in an ambulance to the hospital without first paying for it, as that is the practice in Mexico where many participants came from.

Subjects also expressed a lack of understanding about the symptoms of cardiac arrest and how CPR can save a life. Strong reticence about touching a stranger for fear that it might be misconstrued was a unique cultural barrier to performing CPR. Language barriers – either with 911 dispatchers or first responders – also inhibited subjects from getting involved with someone experiencing cardiac arrest.

In the interest of educating more people on how to perform CPR, participants widely supported policy changes that would make CPR either a high school graduation requirement or a pre-requisite for receiving a driver's license.

"Future research will need to be conducted to better understand how targeted, culturally-sensitive public education campaigns may improve the provision of bystander CPR and cardiac arrest survival rates in high-risk neighborhoods," Sasson said. 

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