Who was Lorraine Bayless, the 87 year old women who died at a Bakersfield California assisted living center this week? Apparently she was just another number, at least that’s how it appears after a nurse for the corporately owned center refused to give CPR to Bayless despite the pleas of a 911 operator. So far no charges have been filed against either the company or the nurse, despite that this shows, or should show a fundamental disregard for human life and safety, let alone decency.
In a written statement, the executive director of Glenwood gardens, Jeffrey Toomer, defended the nurse’s actions. “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.”
But just another number? Isn’t that a bit harsh. The company which owns Glenwood Gardens, Brookdale Senior Living, operates and owns a large network of assisted living centers across the nation. In fairness, there is not a pattern of neglect or inhumanity, such as the event that helped lead to Lorrainne Bayless’ death. A visit to Brookdale’s site indicates a commitment to senior care, but to a point. Their emergency care policy is that point.
Their website tracks t heir daily BKD common stock quote- an understandable priority for a company whose stated mission is to enrich “the lives of those we serve with compassion, respect, excellence andintegrity,” and to “put the resident first and foremost and the “bottom line” will take care of itself.” Brookdale’s management team indicates an emphasis on finance and profit.
In an open letter, Brookdale CEO T. Andrew Smith says that the company is “honored when a family entrusts us with the care of their loved one and we do not underestimate the importance of their choice for retirement living and senior living services, and that, “we make a positive difference in the daily lives of our residents is what fuels our commitment 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.”
The State of California is also culpable for death. Legislators have nickel and dimed the Good Samaritan Law, part of Division 2.5 of California’s Health and Safety Code, which covers emergency medical services for the state. The provision reads:
1799.102. No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.
That would seem to paint Brookdale in the darkest possible light, at least in the case of Ms. Bayless. The California State Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision overturned an appellate case allowing a women, apparently paralyzed when a good Samaritan pulled her from a car believed in imminent danger of exploding, to sue her rescuer. The law also excludes “emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.”
Lorraine Bayless, in the bureaucratic trap between lawyers, the courts and corporate liability, became a number to be weighed in terms of potential financial loss. There was no opportunity for doctors to have any say in that voice. As this country continues to struggle with how to handle healthcare, it must accept two glaring traps that are inconsistent with life, caregiving, and life and death decisions. The first is over-reaching interference by the legal system in cases not dealing directly with criminal behavior, demonstrable incompetence or neglect. In the case of Lorraine Bayless, the facts are clear that any attempt at CPR would have been rendered in the best possible faith.
Morally, it is reprehensible that a nurse and company would not render emergency life-giving care under such a circumstance. I have been in those situations, and have not hesitated and would not hesitate to offer care, regardless of feared legal repercussions. I can, however, understand the trepidation of losing a job in a difficult market with the potential of catastrophic financial ramifications on a family given the zeal of lawyers, the priority of avoiding financial liability by a corporation, and the cold adherence to legal interpretation by the courts. Personally, I would not recommend such a facility, nor would I hire such a nurse, but I understand those weights.
Finally, the skewed coverage regarding so-called “Obamacare” describes a system in which bureaucrats and “death panels+ would routinely make life and death decisions for people. This case reveals that we already have such a system in place. The nurse followed company policy-company policy. I’ll say it again. Company policy, and a woman died. Anyone who has argued with an insurance company over a bill understands it has nothing to do with what the doctor prescribed or thought best while looking in your ear or up your … It was all about the numbers, of which Lorraine Bayless sadly became. And that is the bottom line.
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