In my opinion

Ana Veciana-Suarez: Refusal to perform CPR defies explanation

 

aveciana@MiamiHerald.com

The 9-1-1 call between an emergency dispatcher and a nurse at a California retirement home is so chilling, so horrifying, I had to listen to it twice to make sure I had heard right — it so defied the most basic tenets of compassion and human decency.

On the tape, Bakersfield fire dispatcher Tracey Halvorson can be heard pleading with a caller from Glenwood Gardens Retirement Facility to perform CPR on an 87-year-old resident who had collapsed in the dining room. When the dispatcher asks if the woman is breathing, the nurse replies, “Barely.”

What follows is nothing short of reprehensible. The dispatcher tells the nurse to start CPR, but the nurse refuses. She says staff is not permitted to perform CPR at the facility.

(I guess that’s like saying, “Sorry, I can’t stop to help the bleeding motorist by the road because the traffic sign on the shoulder says ‘No Stopping or Standing.’ ”)

“OK, then hand the phone to the passerby,” the dispatcher says. “If you can’t do it, I need, hand it to the passerby. I’ll have her do it. Or if you’ve got any citizens there, I’ll have them do it.”

This is not Halvorson’s last request for help, nor is it the nurse’s only failure as both a healthcare worker and human. Precious seconds tick by as the dispatcher gets more desperate.

“Anybody there can do CPR. Give them the phone, please …” the dispatcher continues to beg. “This woman’s not breathing enough. She’s going to die if we don’t get this started.”

Then another request. “I don’t understand why you’re not willing to help this patient. Is there anybody that works there that’s willing to do it?”

And another: “Are we just going to let this lady die?”

And another: “We can’t wait. She can’t wait right now. She is stopping breathing. Is there anybody there that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”

By the time the medics arrive, it’s too late.

We may never know if the caller — or any other worker at the facility — could have saved the woman’s life by performing a crucial act of simple humanity. But we can shudder at the callousness, at the lack of empathy, especially after the dispatcher assured the nurse that Glenwood couldn’t be sued if anything went wrong while trying to resuscitate the resident.

The senior living facility’s executive director defended the nurse in a written statement, saying she followed protocol. He told a local TV station residents are informed of the policy when they move in.

Really? Part of a retirement community’s policy is to stand idly by while someone is dying? If so, and if this is an industry-wide practice, the death in Bakersfield is a wake-up call to anyone with a parent or grandparent at such a facility.

The tragedy, however, is also so much more. It speaks to a broader issue, one that underscores a troubling reality. Corseted by policy, fearful of legal liability and lacking the most essential sense of morality, we too often check our empathy and humanity at the door of bureaucracy. In this case, a nurse, trained to help the sick, refuses to override a facility’s “protocol” to try to save someone’s life. A woman may be dead because of it.

What kind of society are we?

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

Read more Lifestyle stories from the Miami Herald

  • Cook’s Corner

    Cook’s Corner: Behold the new colors of Easter eggs

    Radiant Orchid, Pantone Color Institute’s color of the year, not only is the hot spring fashion color, but it has made its way into the Easter egg parade. Forget the pastels of yesteryear; what’s trending now are vivid colors. McCormick developed these formulas for making vibrant dyes.

  •  
Linda Bladholm

    A Fork on the Road

    A Fork on the Road: Choices Cafe gives vegans plenty of flavor

    In a sign of the times, a small vegan café has opened a larger outpost, offering meatless burgers, wraps, soups and salads. Choices Cafe doubles as a juice bar with cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices and innovative smoothies such as the Miami Heat with mango, jalapeño, lime, plantain, ground flax and chia seeds and agave.

  • The Edgy Veggie

    Edgy Veggie: Eggless ‘Egg Salad’

    This must be the egg industry’s favorite time of the year. There’s Easter eggs, egg-rich Easter cakes and cookies, Easter brunch omelets, casseroles and eggs Benedict (eggs atop English muffins and in the Hollandaise sauce). Eggs also play a big part at Passover. They’re on the Seder plate and in matzo balls, kugels and Passover desserts. Eggs, though, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be for cholesterol avoiders, allergic folk (eggs are among the top eight food allergens) and vegans. Plant-powered egg alternatives mean we still get a place at the holiday table.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category