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Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Retirement Home Defends Nurse's Refusal To Administer CPR

Mar 4, 2013

The head of a California retirement home where a nurse last week refused to administer CPR to an elderly woman says his staff followed policy in handling the emergency.

In a written statement, Jeffrey Toomer, the executive director of Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, Calif., says it is the facility's practice "to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives. ... That is the protocol we followed."

In the audio from the 911 call that was aired by several media outlets Sunday, dispatcher Tracy Halvorson determines that an 87-year-old woman who collapsed in the facility's dining room is not breathing properly. Halvorson pleads with the nurse to begin efforts to resuscitate her.

"We need to get CPR started," she says.

"Yeah, we can't do CPR at this facility," the nurse responds.

"Then hand the phone to [a] passerby if you can't do it, hand it to [a] passerby, I'll have her do it," Halvorson says.

The conversation continues, interrupted occasionally by the nurse relaying information to someone off line:

Halvorson: "I don't understand why you're unwilling to help this patient."

Nurse: "I am, but ... "

Halvorson: "Great, I'll walk you through it. EMS takes the liability for this. ... I'm happy to help you, OK? This is EMS protocol."

Finally, the dispatcher pleads, "Are we just going to wait, let this lady die?" and in desperation asks again if anyone, "a gardener or any staff that doesn't work for you" can help.

Moments later, the nurse reports that emergency services have arrived and the conversation abruptly ends. The woman was then taken to Mercy Southwest Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Unlike nursing homes and assisted living communities, which provide more extensive medical care, retirement facilities typically offer only routine services.

Glenwood Gardens' Toomey offered condolences to the woman's family and said a "thorough internal review" of the incident would be conducted, according to The Associated Press.

He told KGET-TV that residents of the home's independent living community 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.

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