DSHS: Independent living nurses not required to give CPR

SEATTLE -- An elderly woman died last Tuesday after a nurse at her California retirement home refused to give her CPR, and experts say the same thing could happen here.

According to the {A href=""}recorded 911 call, a staff nurse called to report that an 87-year-old woman living at the Bakersfield independent living home had collapsed in the dining room with breathing problems.

The nurse told the 911 dispatch operator, Tracey Halvorson, that the elderly woman, Lorraine Bayless, was only taking about one breath every 15 seconds.

During the call, the nurse refused Halvorson's clear directions to perform CPR, saying that the retirement home doesn't allow such procedures on its residents.

"Can anyone there do CPR? Give them the phone please I understand if your facility is not willing," Halvorson said during the recorded call. "But give the phone to the stranger. This woman is not breathing enough. She is going to die if we don't get this started."

"I understand," the nurse replied. "I am a nurse, but I can not have our other senior citizens who don't know CPR (interrupted)."

Almost 10 minutes after the call was placed, an ambulance arrived at Glenwood Gardens. Paramedics took Bayless to a hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.

The facility is owned by a company called Brookdale Senior Living, which has facilities in 36 states, including 12 in Washington. Many of those facilities -- including one in Lynnwood -- are under the Clare Bridge brand.

Nurses at the Lynnwood facility refused to answer if they are ordered not to give CPR. They referred all questions to corporate headquarters. A statement from headquarters said the Bakersfield nurse properly followed policy.

Good Samaritan laws protect average citizens who help out in an emergency situation, and large hospitals have lots of insurance and training. Caught in the middle are assisted living facilities.

Roger Leslie is a top expert on elderly care law and said it boils down to profits before patients.

"That seems ridiculous to me. And what I'd say about this is that if it seems ridiculous to me and to you, then it's going to seem ridiculous to a jury," he said.

Much depends on whether the facility is a nursing home or an independent living facility, which are not regulated by the state. The Department of Social and Health Services confirms that staffers are not obligated to give CPR, only to call 911.

The Bakersfield nurse may be in additional trouble. While she was following company policy, she may have violated her nursing license by refusing to give life-saving care.

Leslie urges all families shopping for elderly care to set aside difficult emotions and read everything twice before signing a contract.