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Posted on Monday, March 04, 2013

Can a Nurse Refuse CPR to Follow “Company Policy” While a Woman Dies?

The nation is abuzz about an incredible situation at a California assisted living facility.  A video clip with the discussion of this breaking news is attached below.

A nurse at the facility called 911 for medical assistance when a female resident had difficulty breathing.  The dispatcher on the 911 tape pleaded with the nurse to administer CPR, but the nurse refused saying it was against company policy.  In a tragic twist of irony, the facility’s policy required medical personnel to arrive at the scene to provide medical assistance.  It is unclear why the nurse did not fall under the description of “medical personnel.”  The female resident’s medical condition worsened while waiting for medical personnel to arrive and she died.  The facility issued a statement following her death that supported the nurse’s actions.

This tragedy raises troubling issues which have legal and ethical implications.  Employers have broad latitude to create and implement company policies, but cannot abandon common sense and place customers in danger.  In this case, both the assisted living facility and nurse face possible legal action.  A jury could have a hard time supporting the facility’s decision to hide behind a procedural policy to meet their required standard of care.  Company policies need to factor in real-life situations that take into account foreseen circumstances, and apply procedures that protect their customers rather than standing on ceremony if tragedy strikes.  This may be a wake-up call to employers to update their policies and train employees to act in a safe and reasonable manner.

Seth Berenzweig is the Managing Partner at the Washington, DC business law firm, Berenzweig Leonard. Seth can be reached at sberenzweig@berenzweiglaw.com.

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