The Rhode Island General Assembly approved legislation Tuesday to require that the state’s 911 Emergency Center operators provide CPR instructions and other emergency medical directions to callers in the critical minutes prior to the arrival of first responders.

The legislation (H-5629 and S-0385aa) would require that all 911 call takers be certified in emergency medical dispatch, or EMD, which includes training in so-called telephone-CPR by September of 2022.

House Deputy Majority Whip Mia Ackerman (D-Cumberland) and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) sponsored the bills.

In every other New England state, 911 calls for cardiac arrests and other medical emergencies are handled by certified EMDs.

In Rhode Island, only about one in five people who went into cardiac arrest in their homes or someplace other than a hospital or health care setting last year received CPR before police, fire or emergency medical providers showed up, according to state health department data published in April by The Public’s Radio and ProPublica.  

Rhode Island’s 911 system was the subject of a 2019 investigation by The Public’s Radio and ProPublica that raised questions about whether the lack of training for the state’s 911 call takers was costing lives. Among the findings: a 6-month-old baby in Warwick died in 2018 after a 911 call taker gave incorrect CPR instructions to the family.

Rhode Island lawmakers approved funding nearly two years ago to train all 911 call takers to provide CPR instructions over the phone. But the planned launch of a new computer-aided dispatch system at Rhode Island’s 911 Emergency Center has been repeatedly delayed due to problems with the state’s aging computer system. The state has since replaced its old computer-aided dispatch system to enable the 911 center to install the software to guide its call takers to deliver the appropriate medical instructions. 

The measures also would mandate a comprehensive emergency call review and quality improvement program. 

 The vote was 70:0 with five members not voting.

A similar bill Rep. Ackerman introduced in March 2019 did not make it out of committee.

The measure now moves to the governor’s office. Asked if he would sign the bill, Gov. Daniel J. McKee said Wednesday, “I don’t know enough about that to comment but we’ll certainly review it when it gets to our desk.”

 updated 2 p.m. Wednesday

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LynnArditi. 

Read More: A 911 Emergency: The way Rhode Island handles medical emergencies puts people in harm’s way.


Correction: This story initially misstated the year by which 911 call takers would need to be certified in emergency medical dispatch. The bills require call takers to be trained by September of 2022.