The national news story about a 87 year old in cardiac arrest and a bystanders refusal to perform CPR attracted my interest. The reported facts as follows. “The deceased, identified as Lorraine Bayless, collapsed in the dining room of the Glenwood Gardens independent senior living complex in Bakersfield on Tuesday. A staffer who identified herself as a nurse quickly called 911 from her cell phone, but refused to administer CPR, citing it was against company policy. Ms Bayless was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. ‘Is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die,’ dispatcher Tracey Halvorson asked on a dramatic seven-minute 911 tape released by the Bakersfield Fire Department. ‘Not at this time,’ said the woman, who didn’t give her full name and said facility policy prevented her from giving the woman medical help.” At first glance this is a seemingly callous and foolish respect for a company policy by a “Nurse”. My initial response to the story was “Are you kidding me?”. Most of my colleagues found it surreal that a medical professional would withhold life saving help from someone, even though the 911 operator begged her to help.
Immediately the facility in question has begun “Damage Control”. “Christopher Finn, a spokesman for Brookdale Senior Living, which owns the Glenwood Gardens facility, told the Los Angeles Times that the unnamed caller was ‘serving in the capacity of a resident services director, not as a nurse.’ Finn would not say if the director was licensed as a nurse. It was later revealed that Ms Bayless had no Do Not Resuscitate form on file. However, it is against the policy of the retirement home to give CPR to residents of the independent living complex. The executive director at Glenwood, Jeffrey Toomer, said in a statement: ‘In the event of a health emergency at this independent living community, our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives.” Often assisted living facilities have RN’s involved in management. It would be very unusual for a business director to identify themselves as a nurse unless they actually were a RN. It seems equally implausible to me that this person would bother to identify themselves as a nurse, only to then refuse to help. I know it sounds strange to lay people, but you have to know what to do, to then refuse doing it. A person who would falsely identify as a nurse would most likely volunteer to help. It is likely that she identified as a nurse to help the operator understand that this was a medical assessment. A non-medical person would have been panicky and attempted to follow instructions. So I will begin this discussion from the standpoint that this was a RN that refused to help.
The facts about CPR:
For this discussion, the facility is considered a community site. Meaning assisted living is not medical care and not a medical facility. From a CPR standpoint it is no different than your local mall.
Hospital CPR Success:
– Survival 6.5%-32% – average 15%
• At least 44% of survivors have significant
decline in functional status.
Overall CPR Success rate.
1. Average rate of success (overall) 15%
2. Ventricular fibrillation after myocardial 26-46%
3. Drug reaction or overdose 22-28%
4. Acute stroke 0-3%
5. Bedfast patients with metastatic cancer 0-3%
who are spending fifty percent of their
time in bed
6. End stage liver disease 0-3%
7. Dementia requiring long-term care 0-3%
8. Coma (traumatic or non-traumatic) 0-3%
9. Multiple (2 or more) organ system 0-3%
consecutive days in the ICU
10. Unsuccessful out-of-hospital CPR 0-3%
11. Acute and chronic renal failure 0-10%
12. Elderly patients Same as
13. Chronically ill elderly 0-5%
The purpose of cardiopulmonary resuscitation is the prevention of sudden, unexpected death. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is not indicated in cases of terminal irreversible illness where death is expected or where prolonged cardiac arrest dictates the futility of resuscitation efforts. For many people the last beat of their heart should be the last beat of their heart. These people simply have reached the end of their life. A disease process reaches the end of its clinical course and a human life stops. In these circumstances resuscitation is unwanted, unneeded and impossible. If started, resuscitative efforts for those people are inappropriate, futile and undignified.They are demeaning to both the patient and rescuers.
Public Misperception of CPR:
67% of resuscitations are successful on TV
Major study evaluating a patient’s desire for CPR.
– 371 patients, age >60yrs
– 41% wanted CPR
– After learning the probability of survival only 22%
Realistically an 87 year old woman, with chronic illness, outside of a hospital has little chance of surviving even if CPR was done. It is not the same as zero chance.
In my opinion there are 3 pertinent questions in this situation.
1. Are you able to help? The medical maxim”You can only improve a dead person’s condition” does not mean try anything? You need some knowledge(not TV knowledge).
2. What are her wishes? You assume that everyone one wants to be resuscitated. Unless you have specific indications to the contrary.
3. Is it safe to help? For example: You getting shot will not help someone, it will just add you to the body pile. Doing CPR in the middle of the highway is a “good” way to commit suicide.
I think it is safe to assume that the person was capable of providing CPR or at least taking direction from 911 operator. A cardiac arrest in the dining room of a assisted living facility does not usually constitute a safety issue. I think that it is also reasonable to exclude criminal, or sadistic motive given the 911 call. You are left with two realistic reasons. You have a person who is ethically challenged, and places work policies above human life. The second option is grim but plausible. Residents may have made tacit agreement to a DNR or Do Not Resuscitate order by living there. Specifically residents know that there is no regular staff trained in CPR and medical care will have to wait for the ambulance to arrive. In this situation a person may want to live there so that the will not receive unwanted life saving measures. This fits with the available facts. Today the family has made a public statement indicating that this policy is one of the reasons she chose this facility. Given the fact that the family has come out in support of the workers actions I tend to believe that the deceased may have not wanted to be resuscitated.
Nothing illegal has been done. First of all California is a Good Samaritan law state. It does not require that you help. Rather the law prevents you from being sued unless your are really outside of what is reasonable. Secondly the facility policy is not “Let Them Die.”. In fact the policy is reasonable. It requires that someone calls for help and stays by the person until help arrives. This policy makes a great deal of sense, if the majority of your staff is non-medical, and they are not trained for CPR. From a litigation standpoint, if this resident received CPR, it may set a precedent requiring future CPR for residents. Or worse one CPR event may open them up to litigation from previously deceased resident’s family. Not being a lawyer in California I am not certain about this. It is a plausible reason to have the policy. Ultimately legal standing does not say anything about the ethical decision to follow this policy to the letter.
I do not agree with the decision. Unless I knew personally that this woman did not want CPR it should have been done. My opinion. This may have been a person who had had been indoctrinated in this policy, and decided to follow it to the letter. Maybe this person may have been involved with drafting this policy and the reasons for it. She did not make a thoughtful decision but I find it hard to believe that this was laziness, or malice. Given the national attention I suspect she will be disciplined for this. Especially given the sensational nature and the negative coverage. Unless there are major details that are different than reported. She should be disciplined.
For the larger issue of elderly life saving procedures I also have a few opinions. If you are a provider always err on the side of life. If there are clear wishes given by the patient they must be honored. Policies are irrelevant you can always get new job, you can’t bring someone back. If you are elderly or terminal and your wish is no heroic measures, make sure you are clear about that to everyone.
I have personally performed CPR on elderly women, it is not a pleasant experience for the patient. If they survive initially, they frequently do not make it out of the hospital. They end up with fractured ribs(among other injuries). Commonly CPR is not a single event and has to be done several times. If you have ever performed CPR on someone you quickly recognize why people have Do Not Resuscitate orders. Over age 80, even in the statistically “best situation”(the hospital ICU), only 1 in 5 survive. Ultimately the nurse’s decision may have not done anything to shorten that woman’s life.
Based on her family’s reaction, I think it reasonable to conclude that what happened is what she wanted. A”DNR” is all well and good legally, and would exonerate the nurse’s behavior. Still in reality if her wishes weren’t clear to her family. I am sure they would have voiced outrage over the refusal.
To end on a personal note. I think it is unconscionable that the fire department released the emotional 911 tapes to the media. No crime was committed. The only reason for this was to have the facility and worker publicly vilified. This was done without understanding the details of the case or speaking to the family. Not fair to the woman, her family, or their privacy.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
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