An elderly woman residing in an independent living center collapsed and a nurse refused CPR — because of the facility’s “policy.” This seems like a real scandal, but it needs a little unpacking. From the LA Times story:

Bakersfield fire dispatcher Tracey Halvorson pleaded with the woman on the other end of the line to start CPR on an elderly woman who was barely breathing. “It’s a human being,” Halvorson said, speaking quickly. “Is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” The woman paused. “Um, not at this time.”

According to a 911 tape released by the Bakersfield Fire Department, the woman told Halvorson that she was a nurse at Glenwood Gardens, a senior living facility in Bakersfield. But the nurse refused to give the woman CPR as directed by the dispatcher, saying it was against the facility’s policy for staff to do so, according to the tape.

Sounds utterly damning. But a word of caution: The woman might have signed a Do Not Resuscitate order. If so, the proper course is to comfort the patient but not try to revive — and, by the way, not call 911. But that does not seem to be the case here:

Jeffrey Toomer, executive director of Glenwood Gardens, issued a statement on behalf of the facility, extending his sympathies to the Bayless family. But Toomer also defended the nurse, saying she followed 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,” he said. “That is the protocol we followed. As with any incident involving a resident, we will conduct a thorough internal review of this matter, but we have no further comments at this time.”

Secondly, it wasn’t a nursing home, per se. Perhaps the facility feared a lawsuit if CPR was done inexpertly. But a “blanket” do not resuscitate policy regardless of the circumstances? Big trouble potentially on the way. I think it would be worth knowing if this kind of policy is ubiquitous within the industry, and if so, whether regulatory engagement is required.

On a human level, this seems hard to justify.

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Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC