BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A stroke has been determined as the cause of an 87-year-old woman's death, and her family maintains they are satisfied with the actions of workers at a retirement community where she lived.
Full statement from the family >>
But, questions are still being raised about the 911 call where an operator couldn't convince a facility worker to provide CPR.
"From the information that's available to us, it seems clear that the employee was put in an untenable ethical position," Dr. Christopher Meyers said on Tuesday. He's director of the California State University, Bakersfield Kegley Ethics Institute.
Lorraine Bayless had collapsed in a Glenwood Gardens dining room on Feb. 26, when employees of the independent living center called 911. As the call starts, the operator is told the stricken woman is lying flat on the floor and she's possibly not breathing. Uncut 911 call >>
"We need to get CPR started," the operator's heard saying.
"We can't do CPR," she is told by a woman who identifies herself as a nurse.
"As a licensed nurse, she had a clear professional duty to provide some aid to somebody in distress," Dr. Meyers said Tuesday, a week after the woman's death. "But, she's been given a clear directive, by force, that's she's not supposed to do that."
It's not clear exactly what the duties are of the Glenwood Gardens employee on the phone, or what her nursing background is.
"Had I been the nurse on the scene, I would have done CPR," long-time nurse Audrey Cochran told Eyewitness News. "I can always get another job."
Cochran specializes in elder health issues.
Asked if nurses are required to help someone, Cochran said they are.
"Ethically, but not legally, if your employer forbids it," she said. Cochran said that happens rarely.
Meyers said more needs to be known about Glenwood Gardens' policies, but he also weighed in on whether companies have an ethical obligation to provide aid.
"It seems surprising that they would have a blanket policy that their employees could not render that kind of assistance," he said.
Asked if companies may feel compelled to take a hands-off policy because of their insurers, Meyers said there's an answer to that: "If some insurance company has a prohibition, then find another company."
Eyewitness News made several unsuccessful requests for clarification of the company policies both to administrators at the Bakersfield facility, and to the parent company, "Brookdale Senior Living."
State Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, said he's looking for ways to respond. Salas told Eyewitness News a bill he's already introduced can be amended, it's AB 633, a proposal for veterans' access to health care.
Salas said if it seems that laws needs to be clarified or strengthened so people are not afraid of being sued if they help someone, AB 633 could be a vehicle.
Kern County Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said Bayless' cause of death is now ruled to be a stroke. Pruitt said that was the determination of her personal physician. The doctor who signed the death certificate also called this a natural death.
The Bayless family issued a full statement that they are satisfied with the response by Glenwood Gardens.
Bayless had been pronounced dead at Mercy Southwest Hospital when she was taken there by the ambulance that responded to the 911 call. Bakersfield Fire Department reports show Bayless had no order not to resuscitate her.
Cochran said incidents like this highlight the need for families to communicate clearly what they want as far as health intervention and end of life.
"People (should) talk within families about what they want done in such circumstances," she said. "Our society does not talk about death."
Meyers hopes scrutiny of this incident will lead to more review of company policies, and he expects that will happen with Glenwood Gardens.
"I'm sure that both that individual institution and the corporate entity that owns them is going to be carefully looking at that blanket policy," the CSUB official said.
Here is the statement from the family of 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless, who died last week of a heart attack after being denied CPR at a Bakersfield elder home:
Our mother and grandmother was a remarkable and intelligent woman who was blessed to have a great life of 87 years. It is the wish of our family to honor and celebrate her life at this personal time. Like so many Seniors, it was our mother's wish to live independently. She was fully-aware that Glenwood Gardens did not offer trained medical staff. Even so, she personally-selected the senior living community, and our family has come to know the staff and been very pleased with Glenwood Gardens as her home. It was our beloved mother and grandmother's wish to die naturally and without any kind of life-prolonging intervention. Our family respects the right of all people to make their own life choices in such cases.
We regret that this private and most personal time has been escalated by the media. Caregivers, nurses and other medical professionals have very difficult waters to tread in the legal and medical landscape of our country today. We understand that the 911 tape of this event has caused concern, but our family knows that mom had full knowledge of the limitations of Glenwood Gardens, and is at peace. We also have no desire, nor is it the nature of our family, to seek legal recourse or try to profit from what is a lesson we can all learn from.
We wish to focus on our family at this time, and this will be our final comment on this personal matter.
— The Bayless Family