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Calif. woman dies after nurse refuses to do CPR

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 1:09 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 2:28 p.m. CDT

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Police in Bakersfield are investigating whether there was any criminal wrongdoing in an independent living facility's handling of a resident's death after a nurse refused to perform CPR on the woman.

Bakersfield Police Department spokeswoman Michaela Beard said Monday a police dispatcher first fielded the call from the facility last week saying that a woman had collapsed in the dining room. Police immediately routed it to the fire department for emergency services, Beard said. But when a second dispatcher pleaded with a nurse at the facility to perform CPR on the resident, she refused.

Beard said the department is looking into the incident. She said she can't provide any additional information because the investigation is ongoing.

The facility, Glenwood Gardens, defended its nurse, saying she had followed policy in dealing with the 87-year-old woman.

At the beginning of the Feb. 26 call, the nurse asked for paramedics to come and help the woman who had collapsed and was barely breathing, according to a transcript of the call.

Dispatcher Tracey Halvorson urged the nurse to start CPR.

"I understand if your boss is telling you, you can't do it," the dispatcher said. "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," the nurse answered.

During the 7-minute, 16-second call, Halvorson assured the nurse that Glenwood couldn't be sued if anything went wrong with CPR, saying the local emergency medical system "takes the liability for this call," the transcript states.

Later in the call, Halvorson asks, "Is there a gardener? Any staff, anyone who doesn't work for you? Anywhere? Can we flag someone down in the street and get them to help this lady? Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her."

Halvorson is an experienced dispatcher and has worked for the county center for at least a decade, Kern County Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Miller said.

She followed procedures until she ran out of options when the caller refused to perform CPR or identify anyone else who could, Miller said.

"It's not uncommon to have someone refuse to provide CPR if they physically can't do it, or they're so upset they just can't function," Miller said. "What made this one unique was the way the conversation on the phone went, it was just very frustrating to anyone listening to it, like, why wasn't anyone helping this poor woman, since CPR today is much simpler than it was in the past?"

Firefighters and ambulance personnel arrived at the facility seven minutes after the call came in, Miller said. The county does not know who made the call, he said.

The woman had no pulse and wasn't breathing when fire crews found her lying on the floor, Bakersfield Fire Department spokesman Anthony Galagaza added.

They started CPR and loaded her onto a gurney. The woman was later declared dead at Mercy Southwest Hospital.

The executive director of Glenwood Gardens, Jeffrey Toomer, defended the nurse, saying she did indeed follow 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 in a written statement. "That is the protocol we followed."

Toomer offered condolences to the woman's family and said a thorough internal review of the incident 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.

A call to the facility by The Associated Press seeking more information was not immediately returned.

___

Burke reported from San Francisco.

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