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Woman dies after nurse refuses to do CPR

05 March 2013, 12:58

Bakersfield - A nurse's refusal to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a dying 87-year-old woman at a California independent living home despite desperate pleas from an emergency dispatcher has prompted outrage and spawned a criminal investigation.

Lorraine Bayless collapsed in the dining room of the retirement home that offers many levels of care. She lived in the independent living building, which state officials said is like a senior apartment complex and doesn't operate under licensing oversight.

The harrowing 7-minute, 16-second call also raised concerns that policies at senior living facilities could prevent staff from intervening in medical emergencies and prompted calls for legislation on Monday to prevent a repeat of what happened on 26 February.

During the call, an unidentified woman called from her cellphone, and asked for paramedics to be sent to help the woman. Later, a woman who identified herself as the nurse got on the phone and told dispatcher Tracey Halvorson she was not permitted to do CPR on the woman.

Halvorson urged the nurse to start CPR, warning the consequences could be dire if no one tried to revive the woman, who had been laid out on the floor on her instructions.

"I understand if your boss is telling you, you can't do it," the dispatcher said. "But ... as a human being ... you know, is there anybody that's willing to help this lady and not let her die?"

No criminal wrongdoing

"Not at this time," the nurse answered.

Halvorson assured the nurse that Glenwood couldn't be sued if anything went wrong in attempts to resuscitate the resident, saying the local emergency medical system "takes the liability for this call".

Later in the call, Halvorson asked, "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."

"I understand if your facility is not willing to do that. Give the phone to a passer-by. This woman is not breathing enough. She is going to die if we don't get this started, do you understand?"

The woman had no pulse and wasn't breathing when fire crews reached her, Galagaza said.

Sergeant Jason Matson of the Bakersfield Police Department said its investigation so far had not revealed criminal wrongdoing, but the probe is continuing.

In nurse's defence

State officials did not know on Monday whether the woman who talked to the emergency dispatcher actually was a nurse, or just identified herself as one during the call. She said one of the home's policies prevented her from doing CPR, according to an audio recording of the call.

"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," said Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for the California Board of Registered Nursing, the agency that licenses health care providers.

The executive director of Glenwood Gardens, Jeffrey Toomer, defended the nurse in a written statement, saying she followed the facility's policy.

"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," Toomer said. "That is the protocol we followed."

Independent living facilities "should not have a policy that says you can stand there and watch somebody die," said Pat McGinnis, founder of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a consumer advocacy group. "How a nurse can do that is beyond comprehension."

In all her years of advocating for the elderly, McGinnis said: "This was so horrifying. I've never seen this happen before."


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