A nurse’s shocking refusal to perform CPR on an elderly patient (who later died) has been hugely controversial since news of the incident broke, and a phone call between a 911 dispatcher and the nurse has incited anger and frustration at what many see as a preventible death.
However, the nurse who refused CPR has one defender — the assisting living facility at which she works, whose policy she cited when not only refusing to perform CPR, but declining to find another person willing to administer live-saving aid as the woman in distress suffered.
After the nurse refused to perform CPR, 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless eventually died. The ending to the story is sad, but listening to the audio of the call or reading the transcript is heartbreaking — and anyone who has experienced pain or upset at the hands of a person who refuses to put humanity above human resources can relate to why this particular call has resonated with so many.
In the call, now widely distributed, Bakersfield Fire Department dispatcher Tracy Halvorson pleads with the nurse to perform CPR — or if she herself is not comfortable doing so, then to find another person willing to step in and save Bayless’ life.
With what sounds like terrifying ambivalence, the nurse not only refuses to perform CPR, but also refuses to even ask any other person present to do so, even when Halvorson stresses that the decision is one the Bakersfield EMS service will fully accept responsibility for, relieving anyone who might have done so from future liability.
In the call, Halvorson begs the nurse to do CPR or find someone, pleading:
“It’s a human being … Is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”
The nurse replies:
“Um, not at this time.”
After several minutes of begging the nurse to do CPR, Halvorson asks with desperation if the woman is willing to at least try and find a person to consent to doing it as help was dispatched, saying:
“I understand if your facility is not willing to do that … Give the phone to that passerby, that stranger … this woman’s not breathing enough … She’s going to die if we don’t get this started.… I don’t understand why you’re not willing to help this patient.”
As Halvorson pleads, the tape reveals that the nurse is speaking to someone off the line, complaining:
“She’s yelling at me … and saying we have to have one of our residents perform CPR. I’m feeling stressed, and I’m not going to do that, make that call.”
Halvorson then asks in frustration after the nurse refuses to do CPR and to ask anyone else if she is willing to allow the woman to die, to which the nurse says:
“That’s why we called 911.”
Jeffrey Toomer is the executive director at Glenwood Gardens, where Bayless was refused CPR by the nurse. Toomer explains 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 to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives.”
Local media discovered that Bayless did not have a “do not resuscitate” order on file. Do you think the nurse should have performed CPR anyway in a life or death situation?