Calif, Retirement Home Death Raises Questions About Local Facilities


People across the country have expressed outrage over the death of an elderly California woman after a retirement home employee refused to perform CPR, saying it was against company policy.

But many are saying human decency should override any policy, raising the question: Are medical professionals obligated to perform CPR, or should they stick to protocol, even if it costs someone their life?

It's a story that has garnered national attention after an employee at Glenwood Gardens retirement home in Bakersfield, Calif., stood by, refusing to perform CPR while 87–year–old Lorraine Bayless died last Tuesday after collapsing.

The facility is standing by their employee – who in the 911 call identified herself as a nurse – saying she followed protocol.

But Bayless' death has sparked outrage, with many people who say a life should come before policy.

"I think it is terrible," Darlene Knoepfel, a resident at Grand Island's Primrose Retirement Community, said. "It's a terrible situation, and I can not imagine anybody standing by and watching somebody die without helping."

Primrose's director of nursing, Tonya VanPelt, agrees, saying a facility shouldn't be able to make that call.

"I don't think anybody else should be dictating whether or not I'm going to resuscitate you," she said. "Whether or not I'm going to watch you die or do nothing, or if I'm going to do something – that should be a right that you should decide what you want us to do."

Primrose's policy is a stark contrast to the one in place at the California facility. In fact, at Primrose, employees are required to perform CPR.

"Everybody is resuscitated unless they sign a paper that their physician also signs that says they do not want to be resuscitated," VanPelt said, "otherwise, no matter where they are in the facility, CPR would be initiated."

And that doesn't just go for the medical staff.

"All of our employees here are certified in CPR and First Aid," she said, "and they're also all trained to use a defibrillator, so whether it's the cook or the maintenance person, the van driver, anybody can perform CPR."

"It should be the resident's call, and the medical staff on hand, or any of the staff on hand," Knoepfel said. "If they feel that somebody needs help, they should be able to give them help."

Here in Nebraska, all licensed nurses – regardless of their practice setting – are accountable in an emergency to resuscitate anyone who is in that practice setting to receive care, according to the Nebraska Board of Nursing's advisory opinions.

A retirement community – whether it's an assisted or independent living facility – falls under those expectations.

"Whether you're a licensed nurse or registered nurse, you are held at that standard, and you should be practicing under your scope of practice and to your level of education to the best of your ability," VanPelt said.

She also says it's crucial that people do their research before choosing a facility for themselves or loved ones.

"Ask those questions," she said. "What is the policy? What kind of staffing do they have? Do they have an emergency system in place? If they do, what do they do when an emergency happens? Who can help? I just think it's important to ask those questions so you know you're making an informed decision and you know what you're getting into."

Since Bayless' death last week, her family has released a statement saying they agree with Glenwood Gardens' decision to not perform CPR.