An elderly woman died in a nursing home because staff refused to perform CPR


Just heard about this horrible story tonight.  An 87-year-old woman died of a heart attack after she passed out in an assisted living facility in Bakersfield, CA.  The nurse who was on duty called 911 but refused to perform CPR, because it was the facility’s policy.

The link: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0304-senior-dispatcher-20130304,0,43655.story

This story made me angry in so many ways.  I actually used to work in a group home for people with mental illness.  While there were a million things wrong with the way my agency was run (boy, do I have stories), even we would have performed CPR in this instance. I was a 25-year-old with a Bachelor’s Degree in liberal arts, and I knew that if one of the residents stopped breathing, I had to dial 911, get a face mask, and get on the ground.

That’s why it boggles my mind that this so-called “assisted living facility” would make it a policy for employees not to perform CPR.  Not only is it irresponsible, but it seems almost fraudulent.  People move in to an assisted living facility in part so they can receive medical assistance.  Part of what draws them in is the idea of having nurses there 24 hours a day.   Little do they know these nurses aren’t actually going to do anything.

It’s simply a case of liability.  These assisted living places want to be able to advertise 24-hour medical care– and charge people for it– without accepting any of the liability that comes with treating the elderly and the very frail.

My ex-boyfriend’s father is a firefighter, and he told me that it is common practice for assisted living facilities to simply call 911 anytime anything goes wrong.  For example, if a resident trips and falls, the staff calls 911 instead of picking the patient up and evaluating him or her.  I could understand this if the staff didn’t have medical training– when elderly people fall, it is a big deal, you don’t necessarily want to pick them up and move them right away.  But a staff with nursing certifications? They have more medical training than firefighters.  The idea that they should sit back in an emergency situation is simply ludicrous.

Who is really paying for the medical care of people who live in these places?  Well, it’s the patients themselves who pay the ambulance and hospital bills, and it’s the local taxpayers who fund the police and firefighters who rush to the scene.  It seems like the assisted living facility doesn’t have to do very much besides provide a place for people to sleep, and charge them rent money.   (I mean yes, maybe they give out medications, but I did that too; you don’t have to be a nurse).


And beyond that, let’s take a look at that horrible nurse who made the call but refused to actually do anything.  I mean, what the fuck?  How could you just stand there holding the phone knowing someone was running out of air?

According to the article I read, 911 dispatchers commonly instruct passers-by with no medical training at all in CPR.  Apparently, CPR something performed by someone untrained is better than nothing.

I just couldn’t believe that story.  How could you be more afraid of losing your job than you are of letting someone die in front of you?

Now, I understand what it’s like to be afraid of violating agency policy.  During my time at the group home, I was always confused about what the “rules” were and what were expected of me.  I was confused about whether or not I would get into trouble if I screwed up someone’s medication (luckily, that never happened).  I never knew whether or not there was a minimum number of staff members that had to be on-site at a time (sometimes we took clients out to run errands or to go to appointments, and scheduling wasn’t easy).  And no one ever told me what to do if a resident ever physically attacked me.

It seemed that all I ever had to go on was hearsay.  I worked a 3-11 shift and barely had any overlap with my boss, who worked 9-5.  Most of what I believed about company policy I had picked up through conversations with my coworkers.  Even at times when I did manage to ask my boss some of my questions, instead of admitting that she didn’t know the answer, she would say “Don’t worry about it,” or “We’ll answer that when the time comes.”  I never knew what would happen if I screwed up– would I be in trouble with my agency, or with the state (who gave the agency most of its funding)?  Luckily, I was an awesome employee and never had to find out.

With all that being said, I’d like to think that if someone’s life had ever been in danger, I would have stopped thinking of company policy and just done what was right.  Besides, what are the chances that someone would be fired for trying to save someone’s life?  My guess is that, had this nurse actually performed CPR, he or she would not have faced any actual consequences.  Her supervisors probably would have taken a more human view and commended her, overlooking the fact that she “violated” policy.


I have to admit, I don’t have all the facts in this case.  But I am just warning you all… be very, very careful of entrusting the care of your loved ones to strangers.  I have so many horror stories from the group home I worked at.  Some of the employees in these types of places just don’t care about other people at all.  If one of my family members or close friends ever ended up in these places, you can bet I would be there, sticking my oar in and asking questions, pretty much every day.  You just never know.

**Thanks to IanTurton on Flickr for making the above photo available.**

6 thoughts on “An elderly woman died in a nursing home because staff refused to perform CPR”

  1. I film a lot of lectures on behavioral analysis and most of them are about care of the elderly or the mentally disabled, and the ethics behind it. It’s all pretty horrifying and very inhumane. This makes me very angry. I’m CPR certified, but the rule is always, ALWAYS try it, even if you’re not 100% sure how to do it. The risk? Well, you could crack a rib maybe. But they’d still probably live.

    I’ve spent enough time in the regular hospital to not trust institutions.

  2. I think an even worse thing was when the article stated that the dead woman’s daughter said she was content with the facility’s care of her mother. WTF?

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