Code Blue: What Should a CNA Do?


Article Categories: Classes and Training & What is a CNA?

At some point, every CNA will discover a patient who is unconscious or not breathing. How quickly you respond in any medical emergency or “Code Blue” can play a big part in the outcome. Knowing your role in these situations can help everyone.



First, know your organization’s policy for CNA responsibility in medical emergencies! This is absolutely necessary. Many facilities expect all personnel, clinical or not, to be able to assist a patient who needs immediate attention. Others do not allow a CNA to do more than call for help and keep the patient comfortable until the emergency team arrives.

You should also know if each patient is designated as Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or if they are a “Full Code,” with all measures taken to save their life.

Probably the main reason for a Code Blue is a Myocardial Infarction, or heart attack. Let’s look at what the CNA can do during this emergency.

What it looks like: If patients are conscious, they may complain of chest pain and/or shortness of breath. They may be sweating, and their color may be pale or gray. They may be dizzy or may pass out. If they are unconscious and not breathing, assume it is a heart attack. Do not waste time searching for a pulse.

What to do: Call for help, put on the emergency light, and begin CPR. When the nurse or code team arrives, they will take over the resuscitation process. At that time, step aside and, if possible make a few notes about when you found the patient and what you observed, such as not breathing, complaining of chest pain before becoming unconscious, skin color, etc.

Depending on where you work, a CNA may have a specific role during a code. You may be asked to help ventilate the patient with an Ambu bag, a mask that fits over the patient’s nose and mouth. You might also be responsible for getting supplies, being the scribe, or notifying a supervisor. Be sure to know the policy and procedure for your workplace.

If you don’t have a designated task during a code, here are some suggestions from nurses:

• Move furniture. When the team arrives, move chairs and unnecessary items into the bathroom or hall, so there is space for everyone.

• Direct traffic. As people come to help, stand outside the room to let them know where the code is. When the team has assembled, position yourself so others (supervisors, EMS, etc.) will know where to go.

• Stay outside the room, but be available to do whatever is asked. You may need to help with chest compressions if others get tired.

• Take care of other patients. When staff is called to a code, they aren’t available to help their assigned patients. Keep an eye on them, make sure no one falls, get them to and from the bathroom.

The important thing is to remain calm and listen to what the nurse or code leader tells you. You are a valuable team member, and “the extra pair of hands” that can make a big difference during any medical emergency.

Try reviewing the course material on medical emergencies CPR from our course library.

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