Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Scary 911 Call from California Independent Living Facility

A scary 911 call from an independent living facility in California documents the efforts of an operator to get help for an 87-year old woman who apparently needed CPR in an emergency situation. Attorney Kim Ryan spoke to 9NEWS about the case.

Someone identifying herself as a nurse told the 911 operator "we cannot do CPR at this facility," despite the operator's pleas that she at least get a passerby to help or the woman could die. No one performed CPR in time, and the elderly woman died. Reportedly, the elderly woman did not have a "Do Not Resuscitate" or "DNR" directive in place, and she likely would have wanted someone to try to help in her time of need.

The facility supports the nurse's decision not to perform CPR, apparently based on the facility's policy that the staff does not render emergency medical aid. Under the policy, staff can only request professional assistance and wait for help in the case of an emergency. Presumably, the policy was in effect in an effort to limit potential financial exposure if something went wrong in administering CPR. (Not very comforting is it?!).

Questions in this kind of a case arise as to whether the facility or nurse would have a legal duty to render aid, and also whether there is any legal protection for someone who renders aid, in case something goes wrong while aid is being provided.

Generally there is no legal duty for an individual to render assistance in an emergency, unless there is a special relationship that would require it. Some people are afraid that if they help, they could be sued.

Colorado has a so-called "Good Samaritan" law.

This means that if an individual renders emergency assistance in good faith to someone who is not her medical patient (and for no compensation), the “Good Samaritan” generally will be immune from civil liability from any damages caused by rendering the assistance, unless she renders aid in a way that was grossly negligent or willfully harmful. Under that law, the employer of the individual rendering assistance would also be immune from civil liability if the individual met the criteria for immunity under the statute. (If things go wrong, a lawsuit could still be filed, but the "Good Samaritan" defense could be asserted).

Even so, Colorado nursing homes and resident care facilities are subject to state and federal laws and regulations. The regulations require nursing homes to have procedures for emergency situations, and the regulations set forth standards of care.

Currently an elder abuse bill is pending before the Colorado legislature that would require nursing homes, nurses, and others to report abuse of anyone over the age of 70 to law enforcement within 24 hours. The bill addresses caretaker neglect, so it potentially could be relevant in a case like this.

Colorado Nursing home residents also have certain rights spelled out in the Resident’s Bill of Rights and the Colorado Code of Regulations.

Be sure to read the fine print in all documents provided by independent living facilities and nursing homes. If you have any questions about their policies be sure to get answers before moving in.

More information about Colorado nursing homes and nursing care facilities requirements and complaint procedures can be found at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Kimberlie Ryan
Ryan Law Firm, LLC

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