While jokes about the dangers of our highly litigious society are common, it isn’t too often that we hear of someone actually dying over a liability issue. Sadly, that has changed this week as a nurse employed at Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, California, refused to perform CPR on a dying elderly woman, apparently on the grounds that doing so would contravene corporate policy.
While the 911 operator pled with her to administer CPR, the nurse, identified only as ‘Colleen’ said that her boss would not allow her to. “I understand if your boss is telling you you can’t do it,” said dispatcher Tracey Halvorson, “But… as a human being… you know … is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”
“Not at this time,” answered the nurse. Halvorson also told Colleen that Emergency Medical Services was willing to take on the liability if the nurse would perform CPR. However, the nurse continued to refuse, apparently unwilling to contravene company policy that forbid staffers from administering medical care to residents.
Medical ethicists and commenters have noted that every state has Good Samaritan laws in place that protect well-intentioned first responders from liability. It is possible that the nurse was not aware of these laws, or that she was simply more concerned about the possibility of losing her job than the possibility of 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless’ death.
A spokesperson for Glenwood Gardens’ corporate owner, Brookdale Senior Living Inc., said that the law dictates that as an independent living facility, Glenwood Gardens is not permitted to provide medical care to any of its residents. However, as New York University medical ethicist Arthur Caplan said this week, “the policy on paper may make sense, but policy be damned when someone’s life is at stake.”