Woman dies after nurse refuses to do CPR

2013-03-05 09:02

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."

  • Philip Botha - 2013-03-05 09:38

    Unfortunately CPR isn't quite as effective. In hospital like setting only 30% re-establish ciculation, 8% outside (75% of whom die afterwards). Most then die afterwards anyway. If you're doing CPR correctly, then there will be broken ribs and perhaps even a broken sternum (especially in an 87 year old women). Essentially CPR is traumatic enough, especially for the elderly, to kill. The implicit assumption in this article (for it to be sensational) is that CPR would have saved the woman's life. It might have prevented her from dying from oxygen starvation (8% chance), but might have killed her from sheer trauma.

  • Jodie Ross - 2013-03-05 09:39

    This is approximately what happened to my mother in August of last year. She died because the nurse on the phone told the assisted living personnel on the phone that if my mother was still having trouble breathing in the morning they could call 911. The manager of the home was called, she said to call 911 but then by the time they arrived my mother was dead. The nurse for her HMO had been called 3 times that day because my mother was having trouble breathing, their answer every time was the same. This was on a Sunday, they said to wait until the next morning to call in help. My mother was 83 and they just wanted to be done taking care of her.

  • Russell Maxwell - 2013-03-05 12:42

    If I'm 87 years of age, please don't do CPR on me. This was an elderly lady, why give her CPR, she would then be hospitalised and kept alive on machines for who knows how long. Life expectancy supposed to be 3 score plus 10. If I was the nurse I would refuse, the nurse will have seen and known what happens after resusitation.

      lance.robile - 2013-03-05 14:11

      I think we should look at the bigger picture here, the fact that this was an old lady has got nothing to with the fact it could have been a toddler at daycare but because policy's and institutions being afraid being sued they would just let people die no matter what age.

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