Gosia Wozniacka / AP
Shown is the main gate of Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, Calif., Monday March 4, 2013, where an elderly woman died after a nurse refused to perform CPR on her last week.
A woman who died after a nurse at her elder home refused to provide CPR had chosen to live in a facility without medical staff and wanted to pass away without life-prolonging intervention, her family said Tuesday.
Lorraine Bayless' family said in a statement to The Associated Press that it does not plan to sue the independent living facility where the 87-year-old woman died last week.
A 911 tape recounts a dramatic conversation between a dispatcher and a nurse who refused to cooperate with pleas for someone to start CPR as firefighters sped to the scene. In the 7-minute, 16-second exchange, the dispatcher insisted the nurse perform CPR or find someone willing to do it.
The home's parent company said in a statement that the employee wrongly interpreted company policy when she declined to offer aide.
"This incident resulted from a complete misunderstanding of our practice with regards to emergency medical care for our residents. Glenwood Gardens is conducting a full internal investigation," Brookdale Senior Living said, adding that the employee was on voluntary leave during the process.
City fire officials say Bayless did not have a "do not resuscitate" order on file at the home. Her family said, however, "it was our beloved mother and grandmother's wish to die naturally and without any kind of life-prolonging intervention."
Glenwood Gardens is an independent living facility, and company officials say no medical staff is employed there. The woman who identified herself as a nurse to the dispatcher was employed at the facility as a resident services director, the company said.
The nurse's decision has prompted multiple state and local investigations at Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield.
The California attorney general was "aware" of the incident, said a spokeswoman, Lynda Gledhill. Bakersfield police were trying to determine whether a crime was committed when the nurse refused to assist the 911 dispatcher looking for someone to start CPR.
The nation's largest trade group for senior living facilities has called for its members to review policies that employees might interpret as edicts to not cooperate with emergency responders.
"It was a complete tragedy," said Maribeth Bersani, senior vice president of the Assisted Living Federation of America. "Our members are now looking at their policies to make sure they are clear. Whether they have one to initiate (CPR) or not, they should be responsive to what the 911 person tells them to do."
Bayless collapsed in the Glenwood Gardens dining hall on Feb. 26. Someone called 911 on a cellphone asking for an ambulance to be sent and eventually a woman who identified herself as a nurse got on the line.
It's crucial that all family members are on the same page when choosing an assisted living facility for their loved ones – and when considering end-of-life directives. NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.
Brookdale Senior Living said in a statement that the woman on the 911 call was "serving in the capacity of a resident services director, not a nurse."
The Tennessee-based parent company also said that by law, the independent living facility is "not licensed to provide medical care to any of its residents." But it added later that it was reviewing company policies "involving emergency medical care across all of our communities."
Bayless' family said she was aware that Glenwood Gardens did not offer trained medical staff, yet opted to live there anyway.
"We understand that the 911 tape of this event has caused concern, but our family knows that mom had full knowledge of the limitations of Glenwood Gardens and is at peace," the family's statement said.
The death shines a light on the varying medical care that different types of elderly housing provide — differences that consumers may not be aware of, advocates say.
Even if independent living homes lack trained medical staff, some say they should be ready to perform basic services such as CPR if needed.
The California Board of Registered Nursing is concerned that the woman who spoke to the 911 dispatcher did not respond to requests to provide aid or to find someone who might want to help.
"If she's not engaged in the practice of nursing, there's no obligation (to help)," agency spokesman Russ Heimerich said. "What complicates this further is the idea that she wouldn't hand the phone over either. So that's why we want to look into it."
"I would certainly hope someone would choose human life over a facility policy, said Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. "That's pretty rotten."
The family said it would not sue or try to profit from the death, and called it "a lesson we can all learn from."
"We regret that this private and most personal time has been escalated by the media," the statement said.