Wednesday, March 6, 2013


By now you’ve probably heard of the debacle at Glenwood Gardens retirement home in Bakersfield, CA last week, in which 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless died after no one offered her CPR when she’d collapsed. The 911 dispatcher pleaded with people at the home, including a nurse, to resuscitate the woman, but was told that giving any medical help was against company policy. By the time EMTs arrived, Ms. Bayless was unrevivable.

Outrageous, right? But the story bears twists and turns that give one pause.

For one thing, Brookdale Senior Living, which owns the facility, initially said its employee acted correctly by waiting until emergency personnel arrived. Then it issued a new statement saying the employee had misinterpreted the company's guidelines. "This incident resulted from a complete misunderstanding of our practice with regards to emergency medical care for our residents," the Tennessee-based company said.

We don’t know at this point exactly what Brookdale’s policy is, but Ms. Bayless' family said she was aware that Glenwood Gardens didn’t offer trained medical staff but opted to live there anyway. They expressed satisfaction with the care she received, saying her wishes were to die naturally. Unfortunately, though, Ms. Bayless had no “do not resuscitate” order on file.

Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, Bakersfield police are trying to determine whether a crime was committed when the nurse refused to help even find someone to perform CPR, the Kern County Aging and Adult Services Department is looking into possible elder abuse, and the state Assembly's Aging and Long-term Care Committee is investigating to see whether legislation is needed.

Ms. Bayless herself, of course, would supply the most useful input, but she’s sadly unreachable. This entire misadventure illustrates the train wreck than can occur when there’s less than full and documented communication around dying, a subject that’s evidently still painfully taboo.

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