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Police investigating facility after nurse refuses to do CPR

Just moments after answering a call from a senior independent living facility, a 911 operator can be heard pleading with a nurse who refuses to perform CPR on an elderly woman. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports and former prosecutor Star Jones and TODAY contributor Dr. Roshini Raj discuss the case.

Police in California are investigating the case of a nurse at an independent living facility who refused a 911 operator’s pleas to start CPR on a dying elderly woman.

The unidentified nurse at Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, Calif., cited a company policy that prevented her from administering the potentially life-saving technique, and when the dispatcher asked her to try to find a non-employee, she said there was nobody available to help, according to the 911 call. The 87-year-old woman, Lorraine Bayless, was pronounced dead at a hospital on Feb. 26, police said, and her daughter has said she was satisfied with her mother’s care.

The Bakersfield Police Department is trying to determine if laws against elder abuse were broken, Sgt. Jason Matson told TODAY.com Tuesday.  

“We’re conducting a preliminary investigation to see if there was any criminal wrongdoing by any of the staff at the Glenwood Gardens facility,” he said. “To date, we have not identified anybody that has committed any criminal culpability based on the information that we have, however, we’re continuing to investigate.”

Bayless had collapsed, fallen unconscious and was barely breathing, prompting a staff member to call 911 last week, according to TODAY. She did not have a "Do Not Resuscitate" order on file with the facility, a Bakersfield fire official told The Associated Press.

The head of the facility issued a statement on Monday defending the nurse’s actions.

“Our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives,” Jeffrey Toomer, executive director of Glenwood Gardens, said in a statement to TODAY. “That is the protocol we followed.”

Toomer did not return a call for comment on Tuesday.

Many around the nation have wondered how the nurse could stand by and not take further action, regardless of the policy.

TODAY’s Professionals panel weighed in on Tuesday and the conversation grew heated.

“It’s one thing to make the decision because she had information about maybe a DNR,”  former prosecutor Star Jones said, referring to a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. “It’s another thing to make the decision because there’s an employment policy.

“Was she evaluating this woman in the light of who she is as a nurse, or evaluating her in the light of, ‘I don’t want to lose my job?’” Jones wondered. “The good Samaritan laws would have protected her against a lawsuit and the human being laws should protect her against anything else.”

Donny Deutsch cited the costs of treating people in their last year of life.

“We maybe need to give some hard looks that some of the procedures being done to extend lives, six weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks, that maybe that money could go to saving little babies,” he said. “It’s a very difficult conversation.”

That’s when Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC News’ chief medical editor, jumped in, saying sternly, “I hope this is a national conversation about death and dying.”

Earlier, she had defended nurses who have to make tough calls in providing end-of-life care.

But Jones interrupted: “I’m talking CPR. I’m not talking about putting her respirator. Hit a chest for God’s sake.”

To which Snyderman responded: “I hope this is one time where the lawyers and the police stay the hell out of it.”

Policy questioned after nurse refuses to do CPR