Nurse's CPR Refusal Reflects Legal Concerns

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 05, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A nurse in California refused to perform CPR on a patient in a 911 call that's gone viral. Was the nurse wrong?

Tough question.

An 87-year-old woman was dying at Glenwood Gardens, an independent living facility in Bakersfield. During a 911 call, a dispatcher is heard urging the nurse to give the dying woman CPR.

The 911 call lasts seven minutes, according to Bakersfield's KGET-TV. In it, the nurse who made the call refuses to give CPR, saying that the independent living facility had a policy prohibiting it.

Glenwood Gardens and even the woman's daughter have stood by the nurse, saying that she followed the facility's policy. The facility claims that their policy is to call 911 immediately after an emergency and wait until medical personnel arrive.

The facility claims that members of their independent living community are fully aware of this policy when they move in. The independent living facility is different from their assisted care facility where members are taken care of, more akin to a nursing home.

Despite the fact that this was really just an "apartment for seniors" type of arrangement, did the nurse really have to abide by a no-CPR policy?

If a patient has a living will or health care directive with a "do not resuscitate" clause, then there would be fewer questions about the liability of the staff when failing to perform CPR. But this woman had no such order.

It's possible that the assisted care facility had a no-CPR policy because they feared for the consequences of CPR-gone-wrong. If a bystander assists someone in dire need, the bystander typically can't be sued if he or she acted in good faith. But different standards apply to medical personnel who act in their professional capacities.

Nevertheless, the 911 dispatcher is heard telling the nurse that the emergency medical system would take the liability for the call if anything went wrong. You can listen to the call here.

Still, the nurse refused to perform CPR. She was asked if there was anyone else nearby who could do CPR and told the 911 dispatcher, "Not at this time."

The daughter of the deceased woman told KGET that she was satisfied with the way Glenwood Gardens handled the situation. It doesn't look like there will be any lawsuits, but a police investigation is pending.

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