When Negligence is a Crime: Part II

In a prior post, we discussed When Negligence = Murder and profiled a building defect dispute which resulted in the death of a firefighter.  In a similar vein, a nurse’s refusal to perform CPR on a collapsed woman dying in a California independent living complex has launched a criminal investigation and sparks new concerns about protocols at independent living facilities.  State officials in California are taking a close look at the nurse’s conduct and at retirement facility policies after a lengthy 911 call was released in which an emergency dispatcher is heard pleading with a facility nurse to provide CPR on the dying resident.  The nurse’s refusal to attempt resuscitation has opened the door to inquiries about the facility’s protocol and about potential civil and/or criminal liability for failing to render adequate care.

According to reports, an unidentified woman called 911 on February 26, 2013 and asked for the paramedics to be sent to the Glenwood Gardens independent living facility in Bakersfield, California.  Subsequently, a woman who identified herself only as a “nurse”  told the 911 dispatcher that she was precluded from performing CPR on the collapsed, unconscious woman.  Despite the dispatcher’s efforts to persuade her, the nurse refused to provide assistance citing the home’s non-resuscitation policies.  The resident died after emergency professionals responded and rendered CPR.

This incident raises concerns about the liability of the independent living facility and the particular nurse’s conduct.  Independent living facilities, unlike nursing homes, generally do not provide 24/7 medical care and typically do not have a regulatory obligation to provide CPR. Nevertheless, health care advocates in California, such as the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform question these protocols and are arguing that a facility cannot maintain a policy that prevents intervention in the face of an emergency.  Similarly, state officials in charge of licensing registered nurses also raise issues as to the nurse’s duty to the resident and whether she breached the standard of care stating.

This sad story calls into question “hands off” protocols employed by independent living facilities and is another example of the potential overlap between civil liability and criminal behavior. Given the backlash, independent living facilities should examine their protocols and be wary of potential liability.  Similarly, nurses and other medical professionals might face the difficult choice of ignoring protocol and risking termination or following the protocol and risking liability.