The Glenwood Gardens Incident: A Duty To Rescue, Policy Or Not

"Here at Glenwood Gardens, our residents understand that our crack staff will allow them to die on the floor without lifting a finger."

“Here at Glenwood Gardens, our residents understand that our crack staff will allow them to die on the floor without us lifting a finger.”

Once again, we consider the ethical duties of someone placed by fate and circumstance in a position to give life-saving service…and who refuses to do so.

Lorraine Bayless,  87 year-old resident of Glenwood Gardens, a Bakersfield, California senior living facility, collapsed on the dining room floor, not breathing, her life obviously in danger.  A Glenwood Gardens staff member who identified herself as a nurse called 911, and this exchange ensued…

911 Dispatcher: “This woman’s not breathing enough. She’s gonna die if we don’t get this started. Do you understand?”

Nurse: “I understand. I am a nurse. But I cannot have our other citizens, who don’t know CPR, do it … ”

Dispatcher: “Is there anyone that works there that’s willing to do it?”

Nurse: “We can’t do that.”

Dispatcher: “Are we just gonna let this lady die?”

Nurse: “Well that’s why we’re calling 911.”

Dispatcher: “Is there anyone that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”

Nurse: “Um, not at this time.”

The 87-year-old was declared dead at the hospital.

What’s going on here? Oh, just policy, risk-aversion, fears of liability, and utter inhuman cowardice.

Glenwood Gardens’ policy is to call 911 when a resident is in peril, and staff members are told to keep hands off, presumably in fear of being sued, though California has a Good Samaritan law that provides some protection. This staff member was “serving in the capacity of a resident services director, not as a nurse,” explained Christopher Finn, a regional director of operations for Brookdale Senior Living, which owns Glenwood Gardens.  Finn says, that the facillity “is an independent living facility,” which by law is not licensed to provide medical care to its residents.

So, naturally, the logical, fair, sensible and ethical thing to do when immediate action is required to save a life is…nothing.

In a word, bullshit.

Nobody was going to sue the unnamed nurse or anybody else for performing CPR on the stricken woman. Did she risk being fired? Maybe, though we have seen that scenario turn into a well-deserved public relations disaster before.  (Also here) It doesn’t matter—a life was at stake. The 911 operator had concluded that help would not arrive on time, and was begging, pleading, for someone, anyone, to take pro-active steps to try to save the woman’s life. The situation is no different from Raymond Zack’s disgraceful death, or the Brooklyn EMT’s who wouldn’t help a pregnant heart attack victim because they were on a break. (Links below)

As I wrote in response to yet another awful story of Americans ignoring a human being in mortal peril:

“Helping out another human being carries risk….America used to be about risk, but we are losing our collective nerve. The culture has gradually embraced an alignment of values where avoidance of risk nears the top of the list. We will give up some of our freedom to be secure from attack. We will give up our independence to ensure income, health insurance, and other safety nets. We will let the poor fight for us. The willingness to take great risks for important goals and objectives, which made the existence of the United States possible, is no longer seen as virtuous, logical, or smart.

“Where does that leave courage, valor and self-sacrifice? …Schools don’t teach students about courage any more. Stories about the miserable treatment of Native Americans dominate the story of how the West was won, slighting the undeniable courage of the common people who won it (or, if you prefer, took it.) The wars of the 20th Century are increasingly taught as cautionary tales about imperialism, greed or genocide; nobody graduates from high school today knowing who Alvin York or Audie Murphy was or what they did. The earlier wars? Well, you can’t teach about Pickett’s futile and heroic charge, because he was one of the “bad guys” in the Civil War. Schools rarely teach students about the Alamo (which fell 177 years ago this weak, not that many news media organizations noticed) outside of Texas: too many slaveholders in that brave group, and they were fighting Mexicans.

“It is true that today’s popular culture, Harry Potter and the like, still occasionally celebrate heroism and sacrifice. But this is not enough to maintain bravery and courage as cultural values, when all the other societal messages are telling Americans to be safe, be secure, and above all, avoid risk…

“I don’t know what it will take to make Americans remember what was once a cherished part of their heritage, that the courage to do what is right in the face of  danger and risk is essential to a healthy society and a meaningful life.”

So is recognizing the duty to rescue fellow human beings in peril.

Now, however, the trend is to find excuses for the callous and the cowardly. Lorraine Bayless’s family immediately put out a statement that Lorraine didn’t want to be rescued, and that the family “knows that mom had full knowledge of the limitations of Glenwood Gardens and is at peace.”  She’s also dead. Lorraine knew that if she fell ill and needed CPR, a facility nurse would just stand by shrugging as the 911 operator begged her to help? Who believes that? There was no paperwork or signed form indicating that Bayless had made a DNR request. In any event, the nurse who let her die didn’t know whether she had a DNR or not. The moral luck that Lorraine secretly wanted to be left to die on the dining room floor—if you choose to believe such a thing—doesn’t alter the unethical nature of the nurse’s conduct or make it any  more defensible.

Here again is the Ethics Alarms list of posts on the duty to rescue, recently updated….

…and it continues to grow longer and more damning.


Sources: LA Times, Boston Herald

Graphic: ABC

8 thoughts on “The Glenwood Gardens Incident: A Duty To Rescue, Policy Or Not

  1. This case is slightly different than the others that you have posted. Since I am probably closer to being a Mrs. Bayless than any of the other posters here, let me give you a point of view from the elderly end. My family has asked me what I want them to do if I should stop breathing. My answer has always been “call 911.” If nothing else they can keep me comfortable. But what if it’s too late? Then it was meant to be. In my life experience, in instances of “save that life at any cost,” those whose wishes were ignored ended up dying anyway. Horribly. And as we get older and sicker, our desire to stay alive changes and heroic measures become a necessity for the young and those who can still function independently. And may we all go to our rest in peace.

  2. The first paragraph of your italicized reference almost sent me on a long essay of why we are like that, then I saw the follow on paragraphs.

    Well written.

    • People are more concerned today with having an Image, rather than developing Character. She brags about being a Nurse, but she won’t care for a dying patient. Saving whales, and conserving Energy Sources, and leaving a lighter Carbon Footprint, are esteemed occupations for our leisure hours, but those who genuinely care about Life are considered by most to be crazy fanatics.

      Life in this culture has become cheap, as evidenced by the rate at which young people are killing each other off for the most trifling of “reasons.” For me, the worst thing about this disgusting story is that it clearly illustrates how it is not just the street hoods who are without Humanity these days. When its “Angels of Mercy” turn this ugly, a Society is just about done.

  3. As a kid I kind of vaguely remember the bad nursing home expose on 60 Minutes. Maybe it just made an impression on me but I remember it being kind of a big deal. It’s crazy to me that this is the first I’ve heard of this story. I guess we are all out of outrage.

    This is really not a good sign as our society ages with all the Baby Boomers entering retirement. Indifference to life is given the legal veneer from lawyers saying it’s safer not to act. How easy is it going to be to just let inconvenient people die?

  4. Jack, we live in a society that has murdered, exterminated over 55 million unborn babies. What do you expect but a callous disregard for human life at the end stage too. In truth, the woman at the facility was not a nurse. Glenwood did have a no medical intervention policy, but what a policy. I suspect it was to avoid lawsuits which is a whole other issue. I’ve always said the present generation will live to see its children euthanize the elderly, i.e, Baby Boomers. God is not mocked! You cannot create a culture of death on one end and not extend it full circle. Here is an article that really expresses the anti-life mentality. Note: Her name is Mary Elizabeth! Can there be a worse mockery of the greatest women in Christian history; Mary, the Mother of God, Theotokos and her cousin, Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist. She would have been a great Mengele assistant! so_what_if_abortion_ends_life/

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