When our parents, grandparents, and elder loved ones move into an independent living facility, assisted living facility, or nursing home, it is often for the availability of skilled nursing care. If a resident suffers a medical emergency, trained personnel are available to quickly respond. However, in a case that has prompted public outrage and a criminal investigation, an elderly woman in a California independent living facility died last week after a nurse refused to perform potentially lifesaving CPR.
Reports say that 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless collapsed in the dining room of the Glenwood Gardens independent living center in Bakersfield on February 26. A woman called 911 and asked for paramedics to come to the facility, reporting that Bayless was “barely breathing.” Police routed the call to the local fire department. A woman identifying herself as a nurse got on the line and spoke with 911 dispatcher Tracey Halvorson, who pleaded with the nurse to perform CPR on the stricken woman.
The nurse, who did not provide her full name, refused to administer aid, saying that the facility’s policies prevented her from doing so. During the course of the more than 7-minute phone call, Halvorson continued to beg for someone to administer CPR.
Halvorson: I understand if your boss is telling you, you can’t do it, but . . . as a human being . . . you know, is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?
Nurse: Not at this time.
Halvorson: Is there a gardener? Any staff, anyone who doesn’t work for you? Anywhere? Can we flag someone down in the street and get them to help this lady? Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her.
Glenwood Gardens administration supports the nurse’s actions, saying she followed protocol, and that the facility’s policies prohibit staff from rendering CPR in light of liability issues. Glenwood Gardens executive director Jeffrey Toomer issued a statement saying, “In the event of a health emergency at this independent living community, our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives. That is the protocol we followed.” He notes that the policy does not apply to the community’s assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Toomer said that independent living facility residents are informed of the policy when they move in.
Others, however, vehemently disagree with the policy.
Pat McGinnis, founder of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, calls the policy “beyond comprehension.” She argues that no facility should have a “policy that says you can just stand there and watch somebody die.”
Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Board of Registered Nursing, says, “The consensus is if they are a nurse and if they are at work as a nurse, then they should be offering the appropriate medical care.”
Dispatchers commonly coach 911 callers through performing CPR, and while some people do refuse to render aid, it is generally because they are either physically incapable or too emotionally distraught. It is unusual, however, for a trained medical provider to fail to perform CPR.
If you have suffered the wrongful death of a loved one through nursing home abuse, nursing home neglect, or medical malpractice, you may be entitled to financial compensation for the negligence of those charged with the duty of caring for your family member.