BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Police on Monday were investigating whether there was any criminal wrongdoing in the handling of a health emergency at an independent living facility where a woman died after a nurse refused to provide CPR.
The facility, Glenwood Gardens, defended its nurse, saying she had followed policy in dealing with the 87-year-old woman who fainted in a dining room.
A police dispatcher who fielded the 911 call was told the woman had a heart problem and was barely breathing.
Police immediately routed the call to the Bakersfield Fire Department, where a dispatcher pleaded with a nurse at the facility to perform CPR on the woman.
The nurse refused, saying one of the home's policies prevented her from doing CPR, according to an audio recording of the call.
Michaela Beard, a spokeswoman for Bakersfield police, said she couldn't provide any further information because the investigation was ongoing.
An unidentified woman made the Feb. 26 call, and asked for paramedics to be sent to help the woman. Later, a woman who identified herself as a nurse got on the phone and told dispatcher Tracey Halvorson she was not permitted to do CPR on the woman.
Halvorson urged the nurse to start CPR, warning the consequences could be dire if no one tried to revive the woman, who had been laid out on the floor on her instructions.
"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 in attempts to resuscitate the resident, 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 added.
The woman had no pulse and wasn't breathing when fire crews reached her, fire Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza said.
They started CPR and loaded her onto a gurney, and the woman was later declared dead at Mercy Southwest Hospital.
The executive director of Glenwood Gardens, Jeffrey Toomer, defended the nurse, saying she follow the facility's 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.
Annette Pellens, a registered nurse who owns an assisted living facility across the street from Glenwood, said such an incident puts caregivers in a difficult ethical position.
"In that situation, you summon EMS and you do what's the right thing to do," Pellens said.
Burke reported from San Francisco.