The family of an 87-year-old woman who died after an employee denied to give her CPR at a California independent living home says she chose to live in a facility without medical staff and wanted to pass away without life-prolonging intervention.
Lorraine Bayless' death last week at Glendale Gardens, a Bakersfield independent living facility, prompted outrage after a 7-minute recording of the 911 call was released. Brookdale Senior Living, which owns the facility, initially said its employee acted correctly by waiting until emergency personnel arrived. But late Tuesday, it issued a new statement saying the employee had misinterpreted the company's guidelines and was on voluntary leave while the case is investigated.
"This incident resulted from a complete misunderstanding of our practice with regards to emergency medical care for our residents," the Tennessee-based company said.
Meantime, shortly before Brookdale's clarification, Bayless' family sent The Associated Press a statement saying she was aware that Glenwood Gardens did not offer trained medical staff, but opted to live there anyway.
"It was our beloved mother and grandmother's wish to die naturally and without any kind of life prolonging intervention," the family said. "We understand that the 911 tape of this event has caused concern, but our family knows that mom had full knowledge of the limitations of Glenwood Gardens and is at peace."
The family said it would not sue or try to profit from the death, and called it "a lesson we can all learn from."
"We regret that this private and most personal time has been escalated by the media," the statement said.
Bayless collapsed in the Glenwood Gardens dining hall on Feb. 26. Someone called 911 on a cellphone and asked for an ambulance. Later, a woman who identified herself as a nurse got on the line and told dispatcher Tracey Halvorson she was not permitted to do CPR on the woman.
Halvorson implored the employee to find someone else and said she would instruct them on how to do the procedure.
"I understand if your facility is not willing to do that," Halvorson said. "Give the phone to a passer-by. This woman is not breathing enough. She is going to die if we don't get this started, do you understand?"
By the time paramedics arrived, Bayless had stopped breathing.
Bakersfield fire officials who responded said Bayless did not have a "do not resuscitate" order on file at the home. The family and the company have not commented.
Glenwood Gardens is an independent living facility and as such Brookdale has said that by law it is "not licensed to provide medical care to any of its residents." But it added later that it was reviewing company policies "involving emergency medical care across all of our communities."
The woman who identified herself as a nurse was actually employed at the facility as a resident services director, the company said Tuesday.
Christopher Finn, a spokesman for Glenwood Gardens, would not comment on whether or not she was licensed as a nurse.
Bayless' death has prompted multiple investigations.
Bakersfield police are trying to determine whether a crime was committed when the nurse refused to help even find someone to perform 911. The Kern County Aging and Adult Services Department is looking into possible elder abuse and the state Assembly's Aging and Long-term Care Committee is investigating to see whether legislation is needed.
The nation's largest trade group for senior living facilities has called for its members to review policies.
"It was a complete tragedy," said Maribeth Bersani, senior vice president of the Assisted Living Federation of America. "Our members are now looking at their policies to make sure they are clear. Whether they have one to initiate (CPR) or not, they should be responsive to what the 911 person tells them to do."
The California Board of Registered Nursing is concerned that the woman who spoke to the 911 dispatcher did not even respond to requests to find someone who might want to help.
"If she's not engaged in the practice of nursing, there's no obligation (to help)," agency spokesman Russ Heimerich said. "What complicates this further is the idea that she wouldn't hand the phone over either. So that's why we want to look into it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.