PD Editorial: Our social compact hits a new low
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 4:43 p.m.
Not at this time?
It seems to us that this is a sad time indeed when a trained nurse won't step up and provide CPR for an 87-year-old woman who has collapsed and is struggling to breathe.
This is what occurred at a Bakersfield retirement center on Feb. 26 as documented in a recently released 911 transcript and tape recording that has gone viral on the Internet.
But what's most troubling is not that the nurse, who remains unidentified, refused to help the struggling woman. It's that she was prevented from doing so.
The executive director of the Glenwood Gardens retirement complex in Bakersfield on Monday defended the nurse's inaction, saying that she was following company 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,” director Jeffrey Toomer said in a written statement. “That is the protocol we followed.”
Which essentially was a protocol that ensured the woman's demise.
One imagines that such non-intervention policies are the brainchildren of lawyers and insurance companies who see the downside of individuals stepping up and trying to help someone in need. Good Samaritans can quickly become victims of lawsuits in cases such as these.
But that's hardly justification for a company requiring a trained nurse to stand on the sidelines holding the phone while someone in plain view suffers. Why did the facility not have its own emergency response team in line and have a defibrillator on hand?
Health experts note that timing is critical in cases such as this, which is why dispatchers are trained to stay on the line and talk anyone available through the process of administering CPR until emergency crews arrive. Health experts note the odds of surviving such a health emergency increase by more than 75 percent when CPR is started right away, even by someone who is untrained.
Which is why the dispatcher can be heard pleading with the nurse to start CPR or find someone willing to try. “Can we flag someone down in the street and get them to help this lady?” the dispatcher pleads. “Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her.”
No doubt, a stranger would. But no one stepped up. And the woman died.
This is reminiscent of a case where a suicidal man in 2011 waded into the water off Alameda and, as rescuers stood by, died. The city's interim fire chief told city officials that his staff couldn't rescue the man because the department's water-rescue program had been defunded. Now, after much civil litigation, Alameda once again has a boat and a rescue program.
No doubt, this retirement complex will be forced to change its policies as well. But it's a tragedy that this woman had to die within view of witnesses before the moral bankruptcy of this non-intervention policy was made apparent to the operators of this retirement complex. Any passing stranger should have been able to point that out to them.
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