Her 911 call, which lasted over seven minutes, has raised concerns that strict policies at senior living facilities could be life-threatening by preventing staff from intervening in medical emergencies.
On February 26, at the facility known as Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, a woman, possibly a nurse, called 911 to ask for paramedics to come and help an elderly female who had collapsed and was barely breathing.
Here’s how the call proceeded, according to The Associated Press, after dispatcher Tracey Halvorson urged the nurse to start CPR.
“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?”
“Not at this time,” the nurse answered.
During the 7-minute, 16-second call, Halvorson assured the nurse that Glenwood couldn’t be sued if anything went wrong with CPR, saying the local emergency medical system “takes the liability for this call,” the transcript states.
Later in the call, Halvorson asks, “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.”
Halvorson is an experienced dispatcher and has worked for the county center for at least a decade, Kern County Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Miller said.
How can anyone just watch another human being who is barely breathing, and clearly dying, and not do anything? Even if you don’t really know what to do, wouldn’t you want to do something? Or run to find someone who could do something?
Paramedics arrived minutes after the call came in, but it was too late. Lorraine Bayless had collapsed in the dining room of the independent living facility section of the retirement home, and by the time medical personnel got there, she had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.
Since Bayless did not have a do-not-resuscitate order on file, firefighters immediately began CPR, continuing until she reached the hospital. The elderly woman was later declared dead.
Following Protocol Not To CPR?
Jeffrey Toomer, the executive director of Glenwood Gardens, had this to say:
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.
Then he generously offered condolences to the woman’s family.
So independent living facilities, unlike nursing homes, generally do not offer medical care. They are apartments for seniors, and may have some services provided by nursing staff, but those staff are not medically responsible for the occupants.
But what does that have to do with refusing to offer help when an elderly woman is dying? This is not about rules and regulations; it’s about respect (or lack of respect) for human life.
Outrage At Such Horrifying Treatment
“This is a wakeup call,” said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, chair of the California Assembly Aging and Long-term Care Committee. “I’m sorry it took a tragedy like this to bring it to our attention.”
Yamada cautioned that while it’s not yet known whether intervention would have saved the woman’s life, “we want to investigate because it has caused a lot of concern and alarm.”
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 Cape Cod, the executive director of a senior community that offers individual apartments with a central dining room and other services was surprised to read of the circumstances of Bayless’s death. Dorcas McGurrin’s facility is not licensed to perform medical procedures, but he can’t imagine not rushing to help a woman in need of CPR.
Indeed, if the 911 operator tells you to start CPR immediately in order to save a person’s life, wouldn’t you do that? As a teacher, I am required to be trained in CPR; I have never had to use it, but hope I would not hesitate if I was called on.
Bayless’s death has also prompted at least one central Pennsylvania retirement community to make assurances it wouldn’t happen there. Country Meadows Retirement Community in Derry Township has distributed a letter outlining its policies, and expressing disappointment that situations like this do a disservice to the numerous caregivers who would have responded differently.
Would you let this happen? What’s the price of a life?
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