Woman Dies after Health Care Staffer Refuses to Perform CPR

Police in California are investigating a refusal by a staff member at an independent living facility to perform CPR on an 87-year-old woman who collapsed on the floor and later died.

Lorraine Bayless was discovered by a resident services director after she collapsed at Glenwood Gardens independent care facility.  The staff member called 911, but refused to render first aid as she believed she was following company protocol.  Below is a partial transcript of the call.

Dispatcher: OK, is there anyone there who is willing to help this patient?

Caller: I am, but…

Dispatcher: OK great, then I’ll walk you through it all. EMS takes the liability for this, Colleen. I’m happy to … OK? This is EMS protocol. OK?

Caller: (To someone off the phone) I don’t know where he is. She’s yelling at me to have one of our other residents perform CPR. And I’m not gonna do that, and make that call.

Dispatcher: Colleen, is there anyone that works there that’s willing to do it?

Caller: We can’t do that.

Dispatcher: Are we just gonna let this lady die?

Caller: Well that’s why we’re calling 911.

Dispatcher: We can’t wait. She can’t wait right now. She is stopping breathing. She can’t wait for them to get there.

Caller: She’s taken three breaths.

Dispatcher: It’s not enough. We need to get CPR started.

Caller: (Chatter in background) He’s saying we don’t. You can talk to my boss, and I don’t know what to say.

Dispatcher: OK. (To someone off phone.) They’re refusing CPR, they’re gonna let her die. By the facility, yeah.

Caller: When will the fire department be here? When will the ambulance …

Dispatcher: They’re coming. They’ve been on the way all this time but we can’t wait. This lady’s gonna die.

Caller: Yeah.

Dispatcher: OK, well then if you get anybody, any stranger that happens to walk by that’s willing to help. I understand if your boss is telling you can’t do it. But if there’s any human being. … Is there anyone that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?

Caller: Um, not at this time

Glenwood Gardens offered an immediate statement saying the staffer had adequately followed protocol.

“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,” said Jeffrey Toomer, executive director at Glenwood Gardens.

Andrea Turner, a spokeswoman for Glenwood Gardens, echoed Toomer’s sentiments, saying there is a clear distinction between independent living facilities and assisted care centers.

“Independent Living communities do not provide medical services, as they are not licensed to do so. In an emergency, staff will call 911 and then wait with the person in need of assistance. Glenwood Gardens is an independent living facility which, by law, is not licensed to provide medical care to any of its residents,” said Turner.

Public Backlash

There has been an overwhelming amount of public backlash chastising the facility for not rendering CPR.  Arthur Caplan, who acts as the head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, said the facility’s failure to render aid cost this woman her life.

“It’s inexcusable,” said Caplan. “You call 911, you trigger a process to do a resuscitation.”

Caplan added that the staff member had nothing to lose by rendering CPR, as all states have laws that protect “good Samaritans”.

“There’s never been a successful lawsuit against someone who tried to help using CPR,” he said. “Every state, if you make a good, safe attempt to help, will indemnify lawsuits.”

Caplan went on to say that some states are even levying punishments for those who fail to render aid.  He cited a Vermont law which states that a person can be fined $100 for not helping a person in distress.

Family Absolves Center of Fault

Bayless’ family issued a statement Tuesday saying that they absolve the care facility of any wrongful activity in Lorraine’s death.  The family said although Lorraine did not have a legal “Do Not Resuscitate” order, she wanted to die naturally.

“It was our beloved mother and grandmother’s wish to die naturally and without any kind of life prolonging intervention,” the family said in a statement.

Less than two hours later, the medical facility issued a statement saying that the employee’s failure to render aid stemmed from a misunderstanding of company policy.

Sean Sullivan comments

Legally, I would say that this nursing home breached its duty of care to the elderly patient.  As a patient, this nursing home had a legal responsibility to make every effort to save this woman. By not doing so, they clearly violated their legal standard of care to her. It sounds as if this nursing home has enacted a policy that they cannot legally enforce.  Legally, this staff member must render aid to help this patient. It sounds as if they have enacted a policy that is contrary to this idea and legally it will not give them a defense.  As a general rule, the courts will not uphold policies that are against the best interests of the public’s safety.

If this patient had a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order this would be a different case. In the case of a DNR, a patient has legally expressed their wishes to not receive extraordinary life saving measures.  In fact, in the case of a DNR, the nursing home legally cannot do anything.  But absent that fact being brought to light, this is a case of extreme negligence and an outrageous breach of care to a patient on the part of this nursing home.

Although it seems that there had been a family discussion about Lorraine’s final wishes, it’s always a good idea to come to a written agreement with a primary care facility in case an event arises.  It looks as if the family will not be seeking legal damages, and I hope that other care facilities use this incident to evaluate and discuss their emergency procedures.

Related sources:  ABC News, Washington Times

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