By Holly Glen Gearhart
Recently the nation was horrified at a news story about a 911 call from a retirement living community made when an 87-year-old resident suddenly collapsed. The call lasted seven minutes as the 911 telephone technician pleaded with a staff member to begin administrating CPR to the fallen resident. The staff member refused; first citing a company policy that forbade her intervention, then stating that she was a nurse on duty.
If she was a nurse, then why did she not administer CPR?
The incident highlighted some things we need to think about and take action on to secure that our wishes are served should a life-threatening situation occur.
Otherwise, we may find ourselves in the position of that resident, who was caught between two opposing policies.
The employee followed policy set forth by the facility owner to call 911 but not render aid. She phoned 911 and requested that help be dispatched.
The 911 operator was also following policy, which is to save a life by dispatching emergency crews and begin CPR on the phone with the person reporting the incident or another bystander.
In the heat of the moment there was a lot of confusion. No one came to the aid of the resident before emergency crews arrived on scene to administrate CPR. Thus, the question here is not so much whether or not the employee should have broken policy and administrated CPR as it is what the policies of the facility that we choose are.
Retirement communities are a lot like simply renting an apartment. The only difference is the residency is reserved for people over a certain age, 50, 55 or 60. The facilities usually do not provide medical services. Nor do they administer your medications, and they are more likely not to require that their staff be CPR certified. Employees are directed to phone emergency technicians in the event of a medical emergency. Check with your facility about such a situation.
To clarify; would you assume that your landlord is certified in CPR? Probably not. You might expect your landlord to be a Good Samaritan and call 911 and then follow their instructions as you waited for the emergency technicians to arrive.
Being a Good Samaritan is a choice, not a directive. It can be a risky choice, too. Someone who agrees to perform CPR outside of a medical environment can face consequences and tons of liabilities. In fact, the Good Samaritan’s life can be forever altered because he or she tried to help.
But there are some laws that protect would-be rescuers.
Good Samaritan Laws are not that hard to understand, but they vary from state to state. In Washington the law reads: “(1) Any person, including but not limited to a volunteer provider of emergency or medical services, who without compensation or the expectation of compensation renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency or who participates in transporting, not for compensation, therefrom an injured person or persons for emergency medical treatment shall not be liable for civil damages resulting from any act or omission in the rendering of such emergency care or in transporting such persons, other than acts or omissions constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”
If you are a passerby you are protected unless you do something really stupid, like bouncing the victim on his or her head, which would be gross negligence.
But such protections are not extended to people who rescue others while on the job.
The law states: “Any person rendering emergency care during the course of regular employment and receiving compensation or expecting to receive compensation for rendering such care is excluded from the protection of this subsection.”
That doesn’t apply to health care workers who aren’t on the clock, though:
“Any licensed health care provider regulated by a disciplining authority under RCW 18.130.040 in the state of Washington who, without compensation or the expectation of compensation, provides health care services at a community health care setting is not liable for civil damages resulting from any act or omission in the rendering of such care, other than acts or omissions constituting gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”
So those who work for a medical care group and provide help as a member of that medical care staff, cannot claim protection under the Good Samaritan law.
The Good Samaritan Act is meant to apply to the citizen walking down the street who encounters someone who has met with an emergency and renders aid.
Check with your facility, apartment or medical center and see what their policy dictates.
As far as DNRs (Do Not Resucitate), no matter what your age, have one filed with your MD or ND or health care facility if you do not wish extraordinary measures be taken to revive you in case of a medical emergency. Also, make sure your family and other loved ones know about your wishes.
The choice of what measures you personally want taken in the event your life is threatened is yours. If or when that time comes you may not be conscious to direct the emergency personnel. Having a clearly defined directive on file is good for you and especially your family, medical personnel and, not least, emergency medical technicians.
Full disclosure: I am NOT a lawyer—I write this article as a researching journalist who interprets information as just as any citizen may. To review the law yourself visit: “RCW 4.24.300, Immunity from liability for certain types of medical care” on-line at the Access Washington Site: access.wa.gov.