TODAY

TODAY   |  March 04, 2013

Legal implications for nurse who refused to do CPR

Just moments after answering a call from a senior independent living facility, a 911 operator can be heard pleading with a nurse who refuses to perform CPR on an elderly woman. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports and former prosecutor Star Jones and TODAY contributor Dr. Roshini Raj discuss the case.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a controversy surrounding the death of an 87-year-old woman at a facility in california . the nurse refused to give her cpr despite the desperate pleas of the 911 operator . here is miguel almaguer.

>> reporter: moments after an 87-year-old resident collapsed inside this facility in california , the 911 call comes in.

>> what is the address?

>> reporter: the woman is unconscious, barely breathing.

>> we need to get cpr started. that's not enough. okay.

>> we can't do cpr .

>> then hand the phone to a passerby. if you can't do it, hand it to the passerby. i'll have her it do it.

>> reporter: despite the calls for help, cpr would never be administered by glenwood gardens staff. our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives. that is the protocol we followed.

>> she's going to die if we don't get this started. do you understand?

>> i understand.

>> okay.

>> i am a nurse, but i cannot have our other senior citizens who don't know cpr --

>> i will instruct them.

>> i will instruct them. is there anyone there -- i don't understand why you're not willing to help this patient.

>> i am.

>> mary winters, an expert on senior care , is shocked by the company's refusal to help but she adds in california independent living facilities, unlike nursing homes , are not legally required to provide medical aid.

>> it's really more like a hotel where they will offer you concierge services, you will get meals, have housekeeping. they'll change your bed. but you can't even get care in an independent living .

>> reporter: the 911 call at glenwood lasted more than seven minutes. with every passing second more desperation.

>> is there a gardener, a staff, anybody that doesn't work for you anywhere? can we flag someone down the street?

>> as a human being , i don't -- is there anyone that's willing to help this lady and not let her die?

>> not at this time.

>> reporter: the elderly woman was eventually rushed to a hospital where she was pronoensed dead. her daughter says she's satisfied with the care while the company says they're conduct conducting a review.

>> star jones is a former prosecutor. dr. roshini raj is a medical contributor. i don't think it's possible to listen to that tape and not be shocked. this was not a woman who had a do not resuscitate order. are you shocked by the turn of events?

>> it's certainly shocking when you hear a nurse say she can't perform cpr on a patient who needs it. there was a policy in place here. i don't personally agree with those types of policies but apparently the family was aware if something were to happen to this woman that they wouldn't perform cpr .

>> one thing to have a policy. because this woman was a nurse, is there some higher moral responsibility ? we know doctors take the hipp hipporatic oath.

>> if the nurse was fearful she was in jeopardy of losing her job because of the policy, cpr definitely saves lives. it could, in this potential situation, save minutes. the brain starts to die after four minutes of lack of oxygen. every minute was crucial here. that's why the dispatcher was so desperate to get someone to start it.

>> star, let's look at the legal issues here. number one, this was the policy of this independent living facility, not a nursing home . this was a policy that reportedly was related to anybody that stayed there. cloer clearly, they didn't want to assume the liability of performing cpr or any other care.

>> every family has a right to lay out what they expect from a facility and the facility has a right to limit what they will provide. it's called informed consent, as you know. the problem then becomes, are we looking at a legal responsibility versus a social responsibility . and the doctor rightly suggests she might have lost her job. think about the pr nightmare of this woman losing her job trying to help an elderly woman and prevent her from dying.

>> do you see any potential legal exposure against this nurse or the clinic based on what we know of these facts? and i should add that the daughter, apparently, is not dissatisfied with what happened here in terms of the care.

>> right. i'm not sure right now that the lawyers have talked to her yet. as you look at the duty of care that goes across our country, there's elder abuse laws. i'm not sure if this facility takes any medicare or medicaid funds. there are regulations that are required in that regard. i would look at all the facts before i say that this facility did the right thing. she may not go to court but she does have to go to bed at night. i'm not sure she's going to be able to sleep well.

>> you are not liable, if you perform cpr in good faith on a person, i want everyone out there to know this. i don't want people to walk away thinking i shouldn't perform cpr because someone might sue me. that's not the case. we have laws called good smart samaritan laws. if you attempt it in good faith to help someone you're not liable.

>> dr. roshini raj and star jones , thank you for both of your expertises. we appreciate