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Editorial: CPR case shows importance of careful 'end of life' plans

Mar. 11, 2013 @ 09:55 PM

The emotional 911 phone call from a Bakersfield, Cal., independent living community last month framed several important issues about "end-of-life" care and decisions.

Lorraine Bayless, 87, collapsed in the dining hall of the Glenwood Gardens facility on Feb. 26. A call was made to 911, and the seven-minute recording of the call has raised many questions and concerns from the public. A few minutes into the call, a woman who identified herself as a nurse told the dispatcher that she was not allowed to perform CPR on Bayless.

The dispatcher, Tracey Halvorson, is heard pleading with the woman to find someone else who might be able to help, stressing she would instruct them on how to perform CPR.

"I understand if your facility is not willing to do that," Halvorson said. "Give the phone to a passer-by. This woman is not breathing enough. She is going to die if we don't get this started, do you understand?"

The company that owns the nursing home initially stated that the nurse had followed its procedures correctly -- that Glenwood Gardens was not a medical facility and the nurse acted properly in waiting for emergency medical personnel to arrive. Later, the company said that the nurse had misunderstood its procedures and had been placed on leave.

Family members responded that Bayless wanted to forego resuscitation efforts and that dying of natural causes was her "greatest wish." However, Bakersfield fire officials who responded to the call said Bayliss did not have a "do not resuscitate" order on file at the home.

No criminal charges have been filed, and investigators have closed the case. But there was certainly a lot of confusion, and the critical decisions were made in just a matter of minutes.

The incident underscores just how important it is for the elderly and their families to thoroughly research the policies and practices at senior care facilities and make careful "end of life" decisions.

For example, families need to understand the different types of senior facilities, from apartments and condos that simply cater to that market to assisted living facilities and nursing homes. It makes sense to read the fine print and ask questions about their policies on evacuation and resuscitation. Do they provide emergency or routine medical care?

Also, once an individual has made decisions about "end of life" care, families need to make sure those plans are properly documented and on file with any senior facilities or caregivers involved.

The Bakersfield incident shows how quickly these events can unfold, and every family wants the decisions made to be the correct ones.

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