Editorial

Death by inaction worthy of outrage

Decision that cost woman in senior housing complex her life defies human decency

newsroom@thetribunenews.comMarch 6, 2013 

The callous treatment of an 87-year-old woman who died after being denied CPR at a senior housing complex in Bakersfield is generating outrage far beyond California.

It should. That anyone would stand by and not even attempt to administer basic CPR — ignoring the instructions of a fire department dispatcher in the process — is unconscionable, whether the incident happens in a restaurant, a classroom, a concert hall or a senior residence.

Lorraine Bayless’ family said Tuesday that Bayless had chosen to live in a facility without medical staff and wanted to pass away without life-prolonging intervention. Still, if a Do Not Resuscitate order were on file, we could understand the decision not to administer CPR. But according to the Bakersfield Californian newspaper, authorities indicated Bayless did not have such an order on file.

Adding to the outrage, the person who refused to perform CPR is a nurse. She continued to refuse, even after the dispatcher assured her that emergency services would assume liability.

Her excuse? It was against company policy.

In a medical emergency, Glenwood Gardens — the Bakersfield independent living facility where Bayless lived — has a policy of calling 911 and waiting with the resident until help arrives, rather than administering aid.

That sounds reasonable in some instances, but not in a life-or-death situation. And certainly not when a dispatcher is instructing an employee to start CPR.

Yes, the woman may have died even if aid had been administered. But as the fire dispatcher pointed out, the alternative was to sit by and allow the woman to die, which is exactly what happened.

At least this sad incident is shining a light on policies and procedures at senior living facilities.

In Bakersfield, the Police Department and the Aging and Adult Services Department are investigating the possibility of wrongdoing, including elder abuse.

Some state legislators were calling for a review of policies at senior living facilities, to prevent a repeat.

We’re glad to hear it.

It’s outrageous that a company would prohibit its employees from taking steps that could save a life — and would then attempt to defend itself by pointing out this was an independent living facility, rather than a rest home or skilled nursing facility.

The parent company of Glenwood Gardens said in a statement that the employee misinterpreted company policy when she didn’t offer CPR, calling it a “complete misunderstanding” and launching an internal investigation. The company also said the employee is now on voluntary leave.

Certainly, there are varying levels of medical assistance at senior residential facilities, and families should recognize that and choose accordingly.

But human decency shouldn’t fly out of the window just because someone opts for one level of care over another, and if it takes legislation to guarantee that, we urge lawmakers to get to work.

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