Students enrolled in Walker County Schools now have extra protection in the event of a health emergency.
Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, awarded an Education Block Grant for $21,000 to the Walker County Board of Education last week, which has allowed for the purchase of 18 new automated external defibrillators (AEDs).
Portable AED devices can be used to monitor someone's heart rhythm and can deliver an electrical shock in necessary circumstances, according to the American Red Cross.
Margaret Guthrie, the director of health services for Walker County Schools, said there are 70 AEDs in the school system. Some have been in place since 2000 and replacement has been recommended since some of the AEDs will no longer hold battery charges.
"Public safety is of paramount concern all the time, but especially when kids are involved, and you're looking for opportunities to make sure that they're safe," Reed said. "We all understand the significance of the defibrillator. If you have an issue and you don't have that kind of equipment readily available, then it's just moments to react or there's a bad outcome."
He continued, "As we look for topics that are important in education, we all think immediately about reading, writing and arithmetic or football, baseball, basketball or volleyball, but every aspect of what goes on at our schools for a well-rounded, well-protected, well-promoted school system is important.
"Issues like this one would be a topic were for it not for Margaret and her nurses, would be an issue that many of us wouldn't even think about, but it's important to the students and the employees."
Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood said having AEDs that are reliable and easily accessible is of utmost importance to ensure the safety of the school system's 7,000 children and 1,000 employees.
"We're very appreciative of Sen. Reed and his support that he always gives us. I don't know that I've ever called him that he did not come through for us," Hagood said. "We've had situations where we've had to rush into action. Across the state and across the nation, you can do the research. They've (AED) saved many lives. Every second counts."
The school system has received the 18 replacement units, and Guthrie has applied for another grant from an organization to hopefully help fund some other AED replacements.
All AEDs in Walker County Schools are tested monthly to ensure they are in working order.
Nearly 200 faculty and staff members in Walker County Schools makeup nurse-led Cardiac Emergency Response Teams — one for every school — and are trained to operate AEDs.
The teams are also trained to administer Narcan (naloxone), which is given when someone is suspected to have an opioid overdose. The school system received Narcan shots, free of charge, in early 2018 through a partnership between the Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Narcan is in place at all county high schools, the Walker County Center of Technology and the school system's 180 program.
Funding doesn't allow Narcan to be available at elementary and junior high schools.
"We're just being proactive," Guthrie said. "Like with the AEDs, if we need it, we want to have something available."