Listen: Nurse Refuses To Give CPR To Dying Woman

Why health personnel at some independent living facilities may not be eager to administer CPR

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On Tuesday morning, 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless collapsed in the dining room of Glenwood Gardens’ independent living facility. When the nurses called 911, dispatcher Tracey Halvorson attempted to instruct them on giving Bayless CPR. The nurses, however, refused, despite pleading from Halvorson. Bayless would later die.

Halvorson pleads, “I don’t understand why you’re not willing to help this patient. Is there anybody that works there that’s willing to do it?”

“We can’t do that,” the nurse responds. “That’s what I’m trying to say.”

Halvorson tells the staff she understands that they cannot perform CPR, and asks if anyone else can, she would talk them through it. “Can we flag someone down in the street and get them to help this lady?” Halvorson says. “Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her.”

Even when the dispatcher tells the staff that the woman is not breathing enough and will die if they don’t start CPR, they won’t yield.

The executive director of Glenwood Gardens, Jeffrey Toomer, defended the nurse’s actions and says his staff was following the company 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. That is the protocol we followed,” Toomer said in a written statement, according to the Associated Press.

Industry spokeswoman Maribeth Bersani, of the Assisted Living Federation of America told CBS News that the rule was likely because the home was an independent living facility and not assisted living. “There’s no requirement that the people in the building be trained to perform CPR, so a company could state in a policy they don’t want anyone to initiate CPR,” she said, adding that the incident will likely be a wake-up call for the industry to review what services and training should be provided.

CBS News reports that Bayless did not have a “do not resuscitate” order on file, but her daughter reportedly says she’s “satisfied” with the care given to her mother.

As surprising as the facility’s policies seem, they may be in place to protect not just personnel who aren’t trained properly, but patients as well. In some cases, CPR can be dangerous for the recipient, especially when given by untrained bystanders, who can cause damage such as broken ribs and bones, particularly when the victim is elderly. Many bystanders are reluctant to administer CPR if they aren’t trained, but recently experts say that even untrained people can help those in distress with a simplified version of the potentially life-saving intervention. In 2010 the American Heart Association says even giving chest compressions alone, without the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, can be effective in saving lives, and in December, TIME covered a study by Japanese researchers that found only giving chest compressions can preserve brain function:

Standard CPR requires alternating ventilating breaths with chest compressions in a carefully timed sequence, and the technique is intimidating for many who might want to help a person in distress but are too afraid of doing more harm. “Rescue breathing is difficult for some people to perform and might interrupt chest compressions,” said lead study author Dr. Taku Iwami, senior lecturer in the Department of Preventive Services at Kyoto University School of Public Health in Japan, in a statement. “Most victims don’t receive any CPR, so we need to encourage chest-compression-only CPR and public access defibrillation programs.”

Listen to the 911 tape released by the Bakersfield Fire Department here.