Despite a 911 operator's urgent pleas, a staffer with CPR training at an elderly living facility refused to perform the procedure on a resident who had stopped breathing.
The reason for the refusal? Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, California, has a policy against its employees providing medical care.
Lorraine Bayless, 87, died.
Shocking? Does this all sound just plain wrong?
Well, medical professionals, lawyers and those who work in the world of elderly independent living say it's much more complicated. While all states have so-called Good Samaritan laws aimed at protecting people against legal liability if they jump in to perform CPR on someone who needs it, few people know about the laws.
And Good Samaritan laws have been fiercely challenged in courts across the country, leaving the average person unclear about just how protected they may be.
"In America where there's a lawyer behind every defibrillator, there's worry that some people have 'Am I going to get sued?'" said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University.
Last week, shortly after Bayless' death, the family said they were satisfied with the care she received, according to KGET.
"I never said I was fine with that," daughter Pamela Bayless told CNN Monday before hanging up the phone. "That was completely taken out of context, and I have no further comment."
From a "medical ethics point of view, I think if you call 911, and 911 says, 'start CPR,' you have to do it," Caplan said. "You are under an obligation to do it. You've started that process and you must follow through.
"The policy on paper may make sense," he said, "but policy be damned when someone's life is at stake."
The 911 call
When Bayless collapsed in a dining room last Tuesday morning, someone at Glenwood Gardens called 911, and Bakersfield Fire Dispatcher Tracey Halvorson answered.
A Glenwood Gardens employee gave the phone to a nurse who identified herself as Colleen.
During the call, Halvorson tried to reason with Colleen to start CPR, and when she said her boss won't allow that, the dispatcher asked her to hand the phone to someone nearby, or anyone the nurse could flag down who was not beholden to the facility's policy.
"I understand if your boss is telling you you can't do it," the dispatcher said. "But ... as a human being ... you know ... is there anybody that's willing to help this lady and not let her die?"
"Not at this time," Colleen answered.
In the last three minutes of the call, Halvorson said, "OK. I don't understand why you're not willing to help this patient."
Colleen: "I am but, I'm just saying that ..."
Dispatcher: "OK, I'll walk you through it all. We, EMS take the liability for this, Colleen. I'm happy to help you. This is EMS protocol."
Colleen is then heard asking someone nearby to call a supervisor.
"Can you get (unintelligible) ... right away," Colleen said. "I don't know where he is. But she's yelling at me and saying we have to have one of our other residents perform CPR. I'm feeling stressed and I'm not going to do that, make that call."
The nurse asked the dispatcher when the fire department would arrive.
"They're coming as quick ... they've been on the way all this time. But we can't wait. This lady is going to die," the dispatcher answers.
Colleen replies, "Yeah."