California retirement home death raises questions for caregivers

Jeff Heck of Indianapolis, and his 86-year-old mother Betty, were stunned to hear the 911 call.
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It's a story getting national attention and scrutiny because of what happened inside a California retirement home and the 911 call that followed.

An 87-year-old woman collapsed in the dining room and was unresponsive. A nurse at the facility called 911.

When the dispatcher asked, "Is she breathing?" the nurse replied, "Is she breathing? Barely."

When the dispatcher tells the nurse to start CPR, the nurse refused, saying, "We can't do CPR at this facility."

The dispatcher pleaded, "Is there anybody that's willing to help this lady and not let her die?"

By the time medics arrived, it was too late. The woman had died.

The retirement home is defending the nurse, saying she followed policy of calling 911 in emergencies and waiting for help to arrive.

Like many people, Jeff Heck of Indianapolis, and his 86-year-old mother Betty, were stunned to hear the 911 call.

"To not do anything, I'm just speechless," Jeff said. "We're still human beings and got to do what you got to do keep someone alive."

After three and a half years in assisted living, Betty moved in with Jeff and his family this last weekend. It was not because of poor care but the high cost.

Betty said she was pleased with her care.

"I had two fractured ankles and fell a couple of times, I fell right there and they picked me up," she said.

Still, what happened in California has given her son pause.

Jeff said, "A lot of facilities say they're doing a good job, but in the back of your head you're scared, because that's your mom or day or whomever in there."

David Orentlicher, a doctor and lawyer who teaches at the IU School of Law, said, "The nurse was put in a difficult situation. She was told not to do this."

Orentlicher said retirement homes are not the same as nursing homes or assisted living facilities and are not legally required to provide healthcare or even CPR. But he said that doesn't remove the moral obligation.

"You may be told by your employer, but in an emergency when a life is at stake the right thing to do is to come to someone's aid," he said, adding, "I think the bigger problem here is why was the facility discouraging the nurse from acting in these situations?"

When considering any care facility, Orentlicher says it's crucial to ask questions and know their policies.

"So if they have registered nurses, what does that entail?" he said. "Do you have limitations on your nurses, are you going to prevent them (from acting) in an emergency? That really needs to be spelled out."

Report an incident or complaint at a health care facility.