NRL News

“Um, not at this time”: Culture of death strikes in CA retirement home

by | Mar 7, 2013

By Calvin Freiburger

ScreenHunter_86 Mar. 06 16.15In what seems like a lock for Worst Story of the Week, an elderly California woman is dead because one of her nurses feared running afoul of company policy.

A 911 operator caught the last moments of Lorraine Bayless’ life on tape. Tuesday morning, the 87-year-old woman collapsed in the dining room of a retirement home.  At the time, Bayless was barely breathing.  A nurse called 911, but refused to give any potential life saving aid, despite pleas from the dispatcher.

“We need to get CPR started, that’s not enough, okay?” said dispatcher Tracey Halvorson on a 911 tape released by the Bakersfield Fire Department.

“Yeah we can’t do CPR,” said the nurse, who cited company policy.

“As a human being I don’t, you know, is there anybody there that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” asked Halvorson.

After a short pause the nurse said, “Um… not at this time.”

Halvorson becomes more frantic throughout the duration of the call for someone to perform CPR.  After several refusals from the nurse, the dispatcher starts pleading for her to find someone not employed by the home to get on the phone, take instructions and help the woman.

“Can we flag someone down in the street and get them to help this lady?” Halvorson says on the call. “Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her.”

It looks bad enough in print, but only the audio captures the full extent of the horror, contrasting the dispatcher’s frantic disbelief with the nurse’s lifeless, seeming indifference to the fact that a woman was dying in front of her. One can’t help but wonder why she even bothered to call.

According to AARP, Glenwood Gardens isn’t licensed as a continued care retirement community and therefore isn’t subject to CCRC regulations or contracts that would mandate they provide skilled aid or medical care, yet for such a facility to forbid its employees from performing CPR is unheard of. And while such a policy could theoretically be motivated by liability concerns, Business Insider notes that California’s Good Samaritan law would protect Glenwood from a potential lawsuit.

While the episode will spark much debate, and hopefully action, as to what policies and regulations need changing, we can sadly expect our politicians to overlook the looming question of how we let our culture fall so far that something like this becomes thinkable, that someone could put her job over a life.

Upon reflection, we shouldn’t be surprised. When societies decide that life isn’t sacred anymore, such fallout is inevitable. And we’ve been feeding that devaluation for a long time. The death cult surrounding the legal power to kill one’s unborn children is obviously the biggest contributor, but it’s not the only one. It’s also about killing embryos for medical experimentation. About rationalizing the elimination of the disabled.  About neglecting the elderly out of financial considerations. About withholding sustenance and administering poison in the name of “quality of life.”

Every time society flirts with one of these temptations, some people will naturally infer that their conventional stigmas and inhibitions regarding life and death aren’t immutable after all, and they’ll reshape their moral sensibilities accordingly. And until everyone whose consciences are still disturbed by it is willing to root out the disease at the source, we should expect the horrors to steadily increase in degree and frequency.

Editor’s note. This first appeared at

Categories: Rationing