Elder Law

After facility worker shuns 911 operator's CPR advice, questions arise: Are legal fears the reason?

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Updated: On the tapes, the 911 operator pleads with a caller to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation to a collapsed resident at an independent living facility. The caller, who had identified herself as a nurse, refuses, citing corporate policy. The elderly resident dies.

The incident last month at Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, Calif., has stirred outrage, but much remains unclear. Was there a do-not-resuscitate order? Were other legal concerns a factor? The New Old Age blog of the New York Times raises the questions.

An initial written statement from the executive director of Glenwood Gardens says the company policy is to call for help when there is a medical emergency in independent living and to stand down until paramedics arrive, the blog says. In a new statement, however, the facility said its employee had misinterpreted the guidelines, Fox News reports.

The New Old Age blog was unable to reach the family members of the 87-year-old woman who died, Lorraine Bayless, to learn if she had a do-not-resuscitate order. Her family did release a statement saying Bayless had wanted “to die naturally and without any kind of life prolonging intervention,” Fox News says. There are no plans for a lawsuit. Bakersfield officials, however, said the woman did not have a DNR order on file at the facility.

The New Old Age blog spoke to experts who suggested other possible reasons for the Glenwood Gardens policy.

States regulate assisted living facilities, but not independent living apartments. Some operators of independent living centers don’t provide medical care because of fears they will be accused of operating an assisting living facility without a license, according to Eric Carlson, a directing attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

Christopher Finn, a regional director of operations for the facility owner, Brookdale Senior Living, now says the staff member who spoke with 911 was “serving in the capacity of a resident services director, not as a nurse,” the Los Angeles Times reports. He did not comment on whether she was licensed as a nurse.

Others interviewed by the New Old Age suggested a fear of legal liability could be at play. The blog discounts the idea, however, citing Good Samaritan laws that protect those who administer CPR in emergencies. In any event, the blog says, “The center would have been on firm legal ground: It is unlikely that an attempt to save a life with CPR would become grounds for a lawsuit when the alternative was almost certain death, legal experts say.”

The blog also points out that older persons are less likely to be resuscitated with CPR and more likely to suffer broken bones and punctured lungs when it is administered.

Updated at 9:10 a.m. to include additional information from Fox News and at 9:30 a.m. to include information from the Los Angeles Times.

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