City, Inc.: Minneapolis will market defibrillators to share profits and save lives

The city has struck a deal with a private firm to get 32 new life-saving defibrillators and some badly needed cash for the Fire Department; in return, Cardiac Science, Inc. will get the city's help marketing its products.

The City Council approved the deal 12-0 April 16, officially endorsing Cardiac Science defibrillators. The Fire Department also agreed to provide Cardiac Science literature during its commercial building inspections.

Fire Department staff also may promote the benefits of early defibrillation to companies considering buying defibrillators but will not actively sell the device.

City Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) abstained from voting, balking at the endorsement and the possibility it could have unforeseen consequences.

Cardiac Sciences will pay the city $100,000 over three years for program administration, said Charlotte Holt, deputy director of Minneapolis Emergency Medical Services.

Cardiac Science also has agreed to share profits with the city from any equipment and training sales made within Hennepin County, she said. The city estimates it would receive $106,000 in the first year and $137,000 in the second year -- though lower sales would mean less money, Holt said.

If the city received $120,000 a year, it could pay for approximately two full-time firefighters annually.

Holt said the project isn't just about the money: "It is about saving lives."

She said the San Diego Fire Department has a contract with Cardiac Sciences. It saved 11 lives and generated $250,000 for the city in two years, she said. Miami and Nashville also are considering partnerships.

'As commonplace as fire extinguishers'

Holt said the city plans to place the 32 new defibrillators in the Minneapolis Convention Center and other high-traffic buildings for anyone to use.

The Fire Department already placed one in City Hall, on the wall outside the City Council's third-floor chambers. The sign above it reads: "For use on unconscious, nonbreathing, pulseless patient."

Said Holt, "We would like to see defibrillators as commonplace as fire extinguishers."

Defibrillators deliver an electric shock to restore a regular heartbeat to people suffering a common type of heart attack. The technology has evolved so far that untrained people can safely use the machines, she said. A computerized voice gives instructions.

(The state's Good Samaritan law provides liability immunity for people who use the defibrillator in a life-saving effort, a city memo said.)

Second deal

For Minneapolis, the Cardiac Science contract is the Fire Department's second commercial venture in recent months. In October, the City Council accepted $50,000 from QuitPlan, agreeing to put the company's logo on six fire trucks and to include QuitPlan smoking cessation materials in the firefighters' twice-a-year literature drop.

Fire Department leaders said QuitPlan and the city had compatible goals. If people quit smoking, it would reduce the number of accidental fires and emergency medical calls.

They saw a similar opportunity with Cardiac Science.

In the past decade, the city's population of 45-64-year-olds, a heart-attack prone group, has increased 34 percent, a city memo said. Further, a national obesity trend increases the risk of heart attacks.

The city's fire trucks have carried defibrillators since 1990, Holt said. Some buildings had a defibrillator, but staff usually kept them in the security offices.

Additional promotion

The defibrillators sell for approximately $3,200, Holt said. Under the new city partnership program, the company will sell them in Hennepin County for $1,985.

Holt knows the specs.

"That will give you two electrodes, a battery [with] a five-year shelf life, a device that has a seven-year warranty on all its parts and service," she said. "It will give you a soft case to carry the device."

Defibrillator customers also need to buy a training package, which includes CPR and defibrillator training for up to 10 people. The CPR training is critical because once a passerby uses the defibrillator, it is important to have someone on staff nearby to follow up with CPR, Holt said.

(The city will get free defibrillators but will need to pay for the staff training.)

Cardiac Science owns the training company and offers two packages, which cost approximately $1,000 and $1,200 each. The city will get $150 for each defibrillator sold in Hennepin County and $250-$350 for each training package sold, Holt said.

The training package also covers a tracking system to alert the owner when the defibrillator batteries and electrodes expire and when the CPR certificate expires. It pays for physician oversight and a needed prescription for the defibrillator.

Holt said on rare occasions she may go with Cardiac Science representatives to talk to a large business about the benefits of early defibrillation, but would not sell the device.

Cardiac Science also will mail a letter from the fire chief to all municipal agencies, endorsing early access to defibrillation and encouraging the placement of automatic external defibrillators in their facilities, Holt said.

The Fire Department is looking for other ways to raise money. It may put more ads on its fire rigs -- possibly the American Heart Association or Cardiac Science, she said.

The key is to make sure the Department's mission lines up with the product's mission. "You won't see whiskey commercials or firearm commercials," on fire trucks, Holt said.

These types of contracts represent a growing national trend, she said. "It is because times are hard, and the dollars are far and few."