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Health beat: A chilling 911 call echoes in Minnesota

  • Article by: Maura Lerner
  • Star Tribune
  • March 9, 2013 - 6:51 PM

 

 

You may have heard the chilling 911 call, when a dispatcher begged a nurse at a California retirement home to do CPR on a dying 87-year-old woman. And the nurse refused, citing company policy.

“Is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” the dispatcher pleaded.

“Not at this time,” the nurse replied.

If you cringed, you weren’t alone. But surprising as it sounds, it could have happened in Minnesota.

“I think it’s possible, yes,” said Adam Suomala, an official with Aging Services of Minnesota, which represents more than 500 senior living facilities throughout the state.

To be clear, he’s never heard of such an occurrence here. And it would be against the law at hospitals or nursing homes, which are licensed to provide medical care.

But Suomala said it’s possible that certain types of senior residences, such as independent living facilities, could have policies like the one in California, where the staff is instructed to call 911 in an emergency but barred from doing CPR.

The reason, he said, is potential liability. Minnesota, for example, has a Good Samaritan law that protects passers-by from liability if they try to help someone in an emergency. But it doesn’t protect employees of a retirement home or similar facility.

Until now, Suomala said, “it’s not something that has emerged as an issue.” But when the 911 call made headlines recently, he said, his organization decided to convene a summit to look closer at the issue.

In the next few weeks, he said, the group will invite lawyers, academics, health professionals and others — including 911 dispatchers — to share their thoughts about what, if anything, needs to change. He also suggested that consumers ask the question directly: What is your CPR policy?

“I think that we all have that same visceral reaction listening to the [911] clip,” Suomala said. “And we want to make sure that we can really do the best thing for Minnesotans. Everybody seems to be on the same page.”

 

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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