March 4, 2013 -- Police launched an investigation today into the refusal by a staffer at a home for the elderly to perform CPR on an 87-year-old woman who collapsed on the floor and later died.
The staffer was identified today as a resident services director, not a nurse as previously reported. The woman repeatedly rebuffed pleas from the 911 dispatcher during a seven minute call on Feb. 26 to give the woman CPR or to ask someone else to do it.
Lorraine Bayless, 87, died later that day after being taken to a hospital by ambulance.
The incident occurred at Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, Calif., and today the police said they were looking into what occurred during the phone call with the dispatcher.
"The Bakersfield Police Department is currently investigating the incident to determine if there is any criminal wrongdoing in the matter," Bakersfield Police Department spokesperson Michaela Beard said.
Beard's statement came several hours after the executive director of Glenwood Gardens said the staffer did the right thing.
"In the event of a health emergency at this independent living community, 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," Jeffrey Toomer said in a statement issued to ABC News.
Toomer offered condolences to the woman's family and said a review of the incident would be conducted.
Spokeswoman Andrea Turner said Glenwood Gardens is an independent living facility.
"Independent Living communities do not provide medical services, as they are not licensed to do so. In an emergency, staff will call 911 and then wait with the person in need of assistance. Glenwood Gardens is an independent living facility which, by law, is not licensed to provide medical care to any of its residents," Turner said in a statement.
In a tape of the 911 call dispatcher Tracey Halvorson pleaded with the unidentified woman, "Is there anybody there that's willing to help this lady and not let her die?"
"Not at this time," the woman replied.
Halvorson is part of "a special breed," said Bakersfield Fire Department Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza. Dealing with a caller who won't follow directions happens routinely, he said.
"They go through this a number of times a month," he told ABCNews.com. "They give instruction over the phone (and) at times it's declined, other times it's administered."
Halvorson is declining interview requests, he said.
Dispatchers are trained to persuade callers to administer first aid to a person in distress before a first responder arrives, he said.
"She did exactly what she was supposed to do," Galagaza said.
Glenwood's protocol has outraged some who claim that when someone picks up the phone to call 911 to help a person in trouble, the caller has an obligation to do what the dispatcher says.
"It's inexcusable," Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City told ABCNews.com. "You call 911, you trigger a process to do a resuscitation."
The staffer had nothing to lose legally, he said. All states have laws protecting good Samaritans, he said.
"There's never been a successful lawsuit against someone who tried to help using CPR," he said. "Every state, if you make a good, safe attempt to help, will indemnify lawsuits."
"Society is making it easier for you to intervene," he said. In Vermont there's a $100 fine for not helping a person in distress, he said.
Caplan said, however, that even if the staffer did perform CPR, the chances of keeping Bayless alive were slim. Even when CPR is administered immediately the chance of recovery is worse than 50-50, Caplan said.
"The odds are pretty long," he said.
But that doesn't change the ethics of why people should help each other, he said.
ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams said a question remains about the liability of Glenwood Gardens. Medical facilities are required to perform CPR on a person in distress. It's unclear whether Glenwood Gardens qualifies as a medical facility or is "essentially an apartment complex for the elderly," he said today on Good Morning America.
Legal issues aside, there's an unbelievable quality to the incident, he said. The woman acts "nonchalant" in contrast to the dispatcher who begs her to grab a stranger who might try to save the woman's life.
"Bravo to the 911 operator, the way she's going at it, trying to get some action here," Abrams said.