There must be a special place in hell reserved for those who, bound by senseless regulations and lack of compassion — antitheses of the Golden Rule — fail to come to the aid (especially those trained to do so) of a fellow human being. A cool drink of water to sooth one’s burning throat will eternally be just out of reach and all will pass by ignoring the incessant plea for just a short sip from the cup.
Last month, 87-year old Lorraine Bayless collapsed, apparently from cardiac arrest, in a dining room at an assisted living facility called Glenwood Gardens. A staff nurse refused to offer CPR or, allegedly, allow anyone else to do so. She referred to company regulations prohibiting the application of CPR to residents of their facility.
Glenwood Gardens is both an independent and ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY for God’s sake. If providing CPR is not "assisting in living," then what is?
The 9-1-1 call was released shortly after the tragic event. "She’s going to die if we don’t get this (CPR) started, do you understand?" the dispatcher pleaded.
The unnamed staff nurse dispassionately and without an apparent shred of concern for Bayless (at least in her voice), refused to offer aid, preferring to wait for emergency personnel to arrive. Bayless’ family later confirmed that a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order was not on file at Glenwood Gardens. Possibly the nurse would have been correct to not render aid if Bayless had a DNR. According to news reports, the family also has indicated they were satisfied with her care at Glenwood.
I don’t claim to know anything about Bayless or her family. Nor do I know anything about the legal and procedural issues associated with offering CPR to residents of the largest operator of retirement communities and assisted living facilities in the United States, Brookdale Senior Living of Brentwood, Tenn., and the parent organization of Glenwood Gardens.
Yes, death is as much a part of life as is birth. And yes, elderly members of our society with their more brittle bones can be injured during CPR — especially with untrained rescuers — even though the 9-1-1 dispatcher pleaded for someone, anyone, who would be willing to help and be talked through the CPR process. "Is there anyone willing to help this lady and not let her die," the exasperated dispatcher asked during the 9-1-1 call. Even though the 9-1-1 dispatcher confirmed they would take legal responsibility, no action was taken to save Bayless’ life.
But legal shmegal. The day we let legal considerations subsume our humanness and our obligations to care for each other is the day we are lost. While I admittedly don’t know much about this case, what I do know is that when a fellow human being is in need of help, help should be rendered.
While we all have moral and ethical responsibilities to help someone in need, nurses and others medically trained have special obligations. Nurses have a similar oath to doctors’ Hippocratic Oath. It’s called the Nightingale Pledge. At the end of this pledge, possibly its most important words, it states, "I devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care."
Bayless was in the committed care of Glenwood Gardens staff, specifically the staff nurse, who was on the phone with the 9-1-1 dispatcher. The alleged Glenwood Gardens policy to call for medical help when an emergency arises but then "stand down," or more accurately "stand around," until paramedics arrive is not enough. Doing so doesn’t meet a reasonable person’s moral or ethical test.
That Glenwood Gardens policy — and the staff nurse herself — failed the Nightingale Pledge. She failed basic human kindness and compassion. We need more compassionate rules in our lives, and more caring policy at our elder care facilities, than the Glenwood Gardens policy that might be called its LTD Policy — Left to Die.
Should we allow malevolence like that at Glenwood Gardens to rule us? We create hell on earth.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.