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Emergency Response for CNA and HHA

1.5 Contact Hours
This peer reviewed course is applicable for the following professions:
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Home Health Aid (HHA), Medical Assistant (MA)
This course will be updated or discontinued on or before Thursday, May 23, 2024

Nationally Accredited

CEUFast, Inc. is accredited as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. ANCC Provider number #P0274.


92% of participants will know how to identify and react to an emergency health concern in an outpatient setting.


After completing the course, the learner will be able to:

  1. Define your role in acting in a health emergency.
  2. Identify your responsibility to get a person's consent to help them.
  3. Describe four elements of a visual assessment.
  4. Identify the response to specific emergencies.
  5. Describe the importance of timely response to stroke symptoms.
CEUFast Inc. and the course planners for this educational activity do not have any relevant financial relationship(s) to disclose with ineligible companies whose primary business is producing, marketing, selling, re-selling, or distributing healthcare products used by or on patients.

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To earn of certificate of completion you have one of two options:
  1. Take test and pass with a score of at least 80%
  2. Reflect on practice impact by completing self-reflection, self-assessment and course evaluation.
    (NOTE: Some approval agencies and organizations require you to take a test and self reflection is NOT an option.)
Author:    Julia Tortorice (RN, MBA, MSN, NEA-BC, CPHQ)


Everything is going along as usual in your patient care area. Then the improbable happens. Someone has a health emergency that is not normal in your area of practice. What happens then? Healthcare facilities are required to have an emergency plan, and every employee must be trained in that plan annually. The emergency plan focuses on major internal or external disasters. What happens when a person has a medical emergency?

This course assumes that participants have completed BLS and AED training. First aid training is important but not required. There is a great class available at First Aid Course. The class is online and includes interactive situation enactments for $35. Kujawa et al. (2019) found that first aid training is essential knowledge to have in a healthcare environment.


When people are in a group, the social norm is inaction. Imposing one's opinion and action on the group is socially repressed. Inaction occurs amongst well-intended people.

In a medical emergency, inaction is not an option. People will often choose not to act first because they may feel that other individuals are more educated or are in leadership positions. However, the ability to stay calm, make quick decisions, and work well under pressure are the ideal traits needed to respond to an emergency. Act! Any delay in the treatment can increase mortality (Bobko et al., 2020). More than one person reacting works out quickly.

The most common reasons people are hesitant to take action is because they are (Adult First Aid/CPR/AED Online, 2020):

  • Unable to decide if there is an emergency
  • Assuming someone is already responding
  • Fearful of intervening (contagion, blood, safety, ability, social ostracization)

The first response is to recognize an emergency. No one or everyone in the area may notice the problem. One should act as if they are the only person who recognizes the person is in trouble because they may be the only one. Decide to act. Any action is better than no action (Adult First Aid/CPR/AED Online, 2020).

Next, check the scene and the victim. It is important to maintain one's safety and not enter into a dangerous environment.

The Red Cross recommends the following method to respond to a healthcare emergency (Adult First Aid/CPR/AED Online, 2020):

  • Check (check the person in distress)
  • Call (call for help by sending someone else to call 911, or call yourself if no one is available)
  • Care (render the aid you can and stay with the person until EMS responds)

All states have Good Samaritan Laws that legally protect people who render aid. These laws differ from state to state. A healthcare professional will be held to have acted within the standard of care of people with similar education and experience. If you are working when the crisis occurs, you will be expected to respond within your practice standard of care. For example, if a person has no pulse, you are expected to respond with BLS. If BLS is not initiated and you are trained in BLS, malpractice may have been committed.


Consent to treat a patient who requires medical attention must be obtained before care can be given. If the person is responsive, they have the right to accept or refuse help or treatment. Period! If the person is unresponsive, confused, or incoherent and no one is available to give consent (parent of a child), consent is implied. When approaching someone in distress and they are responsive, ask for consent to help. Example "I am a (profession or training). Can I help you?" Keep the person informed about what treatment or care will be provided as treatment is taking place. If in doubt, call 911.

Ask the person if they want emergency services called. What appears to be a crisis may be common for that person. Chest pain is often recurrent, and the person needs to take Nitroglycerin. People with diabetes will usually carry candy with them to treat low blood sugar. People with recurrent seizures need to go home and rest. You do not know until you ask.

Visual Assessment

Do a visual assessment.

  • Is the person alert? If not, start the BLS process: airway, breathing, circulation.
  • What are the person's signs and symptoms?
  • Are there obvious injuries or hemorrhages?
  • Is breathing normal?
  • Is skin color normal?
  • When time allows, do a head to toe check

If the person is unresponsive or confused, check for a medical identification card or bracelet that indicates that the wearer has a chronic disease. Family members or bystanders may also know this information.

Questions to ask the person:

  • What happened?
  • Any allergies?
  • What are your medications?
  • Do you have any medical conditions?
  • When was the last time you ate or drank? If the person needs anesthesia, there is a risk of aspiration if the person has recently eaten or drank.
  • Is there someone you want me to contact?

Specific Emergencies

Breathing Emergencies

Sudden shortness of breath or inability to catch their breath can indicate a severe problem. Is the person breathing too quickly or too slowly? Is there a sudden onset of coughing? Is the person coughing blood? Use the Heimlich maneuver if choking occurs.

If the person is on oxygen, check to ensure the device is delivering oxygen and is not empty or turned off. Cyanosis is the dusky tissue discoloration resulting from a lack of oxygenated blood flow. Central cyanosis is most often due to the intracardiac shunting of blood and may be seen in the mouth and lips' mucous membranes, the nail beds, and the eye conjunctivae. Peripheral cyanosis, on the other hand, is most often seen alone, primarily in the nail beds of fingers and toes, as well as, to a lesser extent, the lips. The presence of blunting, clubbing, or hypertrophy of the fingertips or toes (See image 1) indicates the person lives with chronic oxygen deprivation.

Image 1

photo of blunted or clubbed fingers

Example of blunted or clubbed fingers.


If a person is on fire, smother the fire with a large cover or instruct the individual to roll on the ground to put out the flames. Running will increase the fire. The size and severity of the burn determine the level of care needed.

Optimum first aid for burns and scalds is cool, running tap water for about 20 minutes. Do not repeat. This action is effective up to three hours after the burn. Cool only the burned area, keeping the rest of the body warm. Do not apply toothpaste, butter, oil, eggs, turmeric, or ice to burn wounds. None of these are beneficial to wound healing. Oil-based substances can trap heat in the tissues causing further damage. Ice can cause vasoconstriction and cold injuries causing further damage (Stiles, 2018).

Chest Pain

The classic description of chest pain is most commonly seen in the male, middle-aged population. However, females, people with diabetes, and the elderly often described different or atypical sensations that may be cardiac.

Chest Pain
  • Retrosternal chest discomfort, not frank pain (i.e., the patient may complain of pressure, heaviness, squeezing, or burning in the chest, choking)
  • Positive Levine sign (presence of fist clenched over the sternum when describing the discomfort)
  • Diaphoresis with cold, clammy skin
  • Indigestion, nausea, or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Anxiety with increased heart rate
  • Pain localized primarily in the epigastrium, back, neck, jaw, or shoulders
  • Report of recent exertion, eating, exposure to cold, or emotional stress
Action to take with Chest Pain until EMS can Respond
  • Get help
  • Have someone gather available resources (AED, Defibrillator, crash cart, oxygen)
  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Start oxygen if available

Image 2

graphic showing cardiac pain

Cardiac Pain Map

Chest pain may be described as pressure, heaviness, squeezing, burning, or choking. The pattern and location of the discomfort are important.


Stop the bleeding as soon as possible by applying direct pressure to the point of bleeding. Use a cloth if available. Arterial bleeding pumps out. If arterial bleeding cannot be stopped, rapid blood loss is deadly. A tourniquet may be needed as a last-ditch effort.

Loss of Consciousness

People who lose consciousness may spontaneously become awake. Check Airway, breathing, and circulation. Take no further action until EMS responds unless the person is in immediate danger. Loss of consciousness may indicate a cardiac or neurological problem. Many people are hesitant to report that they have experienced sudden dizziness, vertigo, or brief loss of consciousness.


A generalized seizure is easily recognizable where the person has involuntary movement and loses muscle control. Other seizure activities can appear as confusion, lack of normal conversation, or undirected or involuntary movement. Undirected or involuntary movements may be fumbling with hands or clothes, twitching face, or a vacant stare.

If possible, assist the patient to the floor, but do not hurt yourself. Do not restrain the person. Move obstacles away from the person, so they do not hurt themselves. Seizures usually end after a minute or two, followed by confusion and a slow return to awareness (Erich, 2020). People with recurrent seizures will know if they need EMS.

EMS response is needed if (Erich, 2020):

  • It is a first-time seizure
  • The seizure is quickly followed by another seizure
  • Breathing is impaired
  • Consciousness does not return


People who have stroke (cardiovascular accident, CVA) symptoms may not realize there is a problem. Therefore, that person may not be able to make a good decision about seeking emergency care. If in doubt, call 911. Stroke symptoms are a time-sensitive crisis. Thrombolytics (clot-dissolving medicine) must be given quickly to prevent permanent disability due to blood clot damage.

Symptoms of a stroke are sudden onset of (NINDS, 2019):

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe, unusual headache

Traumatic Injury

For severe injury due to trauma, do not move the person unless the person is in danger. Moving a person who may have spinal injuries can result in paralysis. Stop any hemorrhage.


CNAs should respond to an emergency situation within their knowledge and experience.

In a medical emergency, inaction is not an option. People will often choose not to act first because they may feel that other individuals are more educated or are in leadership positions. However, the ability to stay calm, make quick decisions, and work well under pressure are the ideal traits needed to respond to an emergency. Act! Any delay in the treatment can increase mortality (Bobko et al., 2020). More than one person reacting works out quickly. You can save a life.

Select one of the following methods to complete this course.

Take TestPass an exam testing your knowledge of the course material.
Reflect on Practice ImpactDescribe how this course will impact your practice.   (No Test)


  • Adult First Aid/CPR/AED Online. (2020). American Red Cross. Visit Source.
  • Bobko, J. P., Badin, D. J., Danishgar, L., Bayhan, K., Thompson, K. J., Harris, W. J., Baldridge, R. T., & Fortuna, G. R. (2020). How to Stop the Bleed: First Care Provider Model for Developing Public Trauma Response Beyond Basic Hemorrhage Control. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine: Integrating Emergency Care with Population Health, 21(2), 365–373.
  • Erich, J. (2020). Epilepsy for EMS. EMS World. Visit Source.
  • NINDS. (2019, March 27). NINDS Know Stroke Campaign—Needtoknow. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Visit Source.
  • Stiles, K. (2018). Emergency management of burns: Part 2. Emergency Nurse, 26(2), 36–42. Visit Source.