BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A nurse's refusal to give CPR to a dying 87-year-old woman at a California independent living home despite desperate pleas from a 911 dispatcher has prompted outrage and spawned a criminal investigation.
The harrowing 7-minute, 16-second call also raised concerns about the nature of the living arrangements for seniors at a time when their numbers are growing in the U.S. and calls for legislation to prevent a repeat of what happened Feb. 26 at the Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield.
The woman collapsed in the dining room of the retirement home that offers many levels of care. She lived in the independent living building, which state officials said is like a senior apartment complex and doesn't operate under licensing oversight.
"This is a wakeup call," said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, chair of the California Assembly Aging and Long-term Care Committee. "I'm sorry it took a tragedy like this to bring it to our attention."
Yamada cautioned that while it's not yet known whether intervention would have saved the woman's life, "we want to investigate because it has caused a lot of concern and alarm."
State officials did not know Monday whether the woman who talked to the 911 dispatcher actually was a nurse, or just identified herself as one during the call. She said one of the home's policies prevented her from doing CPR, according to an audio recording of the call.
"The consensus is if they are a nurse and if they are at work as a nurse, then they should be offering the appropriate medical care," said Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Board of Registered Nursing, the agency that licenses health care providers.
The executive director of Glenwood Gardens, Jeffrey Toomer, defended the nurse in a written statement, saying she follow the facility's policy.
"In the event of a health emergency at this independent living community our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives," Toomer said. "That is the protocol we followed."
Toomer offered condolences to the woman's family and said a thorough internal review would be conducted. He told KGET-TV that residents of the facility are informed of the policy and agree to it when they move in. He said the policy does not apply at the adjacent assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.
Multiple calls to the facility and its parent company seeking more information were not returned.
Unlike nursing homes, which provide medical care, independent living facilities generally do not.
"These are like apartments for seniors. You're basically living on your own. They may have some services provided by basic nursing staff, but it's not their responsibility to care for the individual," said Dr. Susan Leonard, a geriatrics expert at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Residents of independent living communities typically are still able to care for themselves, but may need help to get to doctor appointments. In skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes, many residents require around-the-clock care.
Staff members are "required to perform and provide CPR" unless there's a do-not-resuscitate order, said Greg Crist, a senior vice president at the American Health Care Association.
The dead woman, whose name has been reported but not officially released by authorities, did not have such an order on file at the facility, said Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza of the Bakersfield Fire Department.