After a 911 dispatcher pleaded with a nurse to perform CPR on a woman at her living facility, the nurse refused, letting the 87-year-old die because of her failure to help.
The California-based Glenwood Gardens living facility is now defending the actions of its nurse, claiming the woman followed policy in refraining from helping the old woman – even though the 911 dispatcher asked her to.
After the 87-year-old collapsed and struggled to breathe in the facility dining room on Feb. 26, the nurse asked the dispatcher to send paramedics and refused to intervene while she was waiting for them to arrive. While on the phone with the dispatcher, the nurse said that the Glenwood Gardens policy prohibits her from administering CPR.
“I understand if your boss is telling you you can’t do it,” said dispatcher Tracey Halvorson, according to a transcript of the call obtained by AP. “But… as a human being… you know. Is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”
The nurse said that no one was around to help.
“Not at this time,” she told the dispatcher, who continued to beg the woman to break policy for the sake of saving the old lady’s life. Halvorson said that if the nurse were to administer CPR and fail to save the woman’s life, the local emergency medical system would “take the liability for this call” and that Glenwood Gardens could not be sued.
Still, the nurse refrained from helping the 87-year-old and also refused to flag down staff members, neighbors or passersby to ask them to administer CPR. The transcript of the phone call shows the nurse complaining to someone else about the dispatcher.
“She’s yelling at me,” the nurse could be heard in the background of the phone call. “And saying we have to have one of our residents perform CPR. I’m feeling stressed, and I’m not going to do that, make that call.”
The dispatcher said if others knew about the situation, they would have been eager to help.
“I bet a stranger would help her,” Halvorson said over the phone, begging the nurse to do more than just wait. But seven minutes after the call was made, firefighters and paramedics arrived at the scene, only to find the woman without a pulse. She was declared dead upon arriving at the Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif.
Now, the independent living facility has come under scrutiny for failing to help the woman stay alive – even though nurses are trained to administer CPR and other life-saving techniques. But Jeffrey Toomer, executive director of Glenwood Gardens, applauded the nurse for following 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 in a written statement to AP. “That is the protocol we follow.”
Unlike nursing homes, the facility is not legally required to provide medical aid – even though it serves a similar purpose by taking in elderly US residents.
“It’s really more like a hotel where they will offer you concierge services, you’ll get meals, they’ll have housekeeping, they’ll change your bed, but you cant even get care,” Mary Winners, an expert on senior care, told TODAY.
But while the nurse may not have been legally obliged to administer CPR, her refusal to help has generated much discussion about the facility’s policies and sparked a debate over the role of ‘social responsibility’ where lives are at stake.
“Every minute was crucial here and that’s why the dispatcher was so desperate to start [CPR],” said TODAY contributor Dr. Roshini Raj.
“The problem then becomes, are we looking at a legal responsibility or is this a social responsibility?” added former prosecutor Star Jones.
Regardless of ones ability to conduct CPR, good Samaritan laws protect Americans from lawsuits that may result from an incorrect attempt to perform CPR, which Raj believes should have convinced the nurse to break her facility’s policy.
“Even if you’re not trained in CPR, if you attempt it in good faith to help someone, you’re not liable,” she said.”