As a health care professional and someone who knows firsthand about how CPR can make a huge difference in saving a life, refusing to do it or keeping trained employees from carrying out CPR on someone in need is incredibly disturbing to me. That's even more so if you're a medical professional or a trained first responder and have alerted 911. After all, if someone's life is at stake, how is it possible for an individual to just do nothing? Shockingly, that is exactly what happened recently in a Bakersfield, California, independent living facility when an elderly patient went into respiratory and eventually cardiac distress.
A 911 operator frantically tried to convince the nurse who made the call to begin CPR, but due to the facility's policies, the nurse was not allowed to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In a nightmarish recorded call, the 911 dispatcher tried to convince the nurse to hand the phone to a passer-by or to get anyone to come and help the patient, but to no avail. The nurse refused to administer CPR, and by the time the ambulance and paramedics arrived, the poor woman had passed away.
If this doesn't speak to the necessity for CPR certification in both independent and assisted living facility employees, I don't know what does. It's tragic that this situation had to occur. A medical professional sworn to protect and heal those individuals placed under their care allowed a patient to go without life-saving CPR. Since many of the details of this event are protected by HIPAA and other privacy laws, it's impossible to know everything, but it does speak volumes about what to look for if you have friends or family who need to live with medical support or assistance.
I try to remember that for this nurse, it must have seemed an impossible choice: her own livelihood and possibly her license, or this patient's life. I know the choice I would have made, but for some, it's not as easy to weigh the risk. In fact, it's a situation any one of us could find ourselves in, as many companies do not allow employees to administer CPR in an emergency.
So What Should You Do?
I am going to just say it: Call 911 and administer CPR. Unless the person has a specific medical order that forbids it, you have a duty to try and assist them while they're in distress. Companies that put "No CPR" policies in place are usually concerned first and foremost with liability. Ironically, in the United States' entire legal history, there has never been a successful case brought against someone who administered CPR to a victim in distress.
Also, be sure to become well-acquainted with the Good Samaritan laws in your state of residence. These are designed to protect people like you who are attempting to make a difference in someone's life during an emergency. They effectively remove liability for people who are responding to someone in a medical emergency. Knowing your rights, you can feel empowered to step up and make that difference.
If you are afraid for your job, find someone, anyone, a non-employee, and put them in contact with the 911 dispatcher; they are more than capable of walking this person through CPR until the ambulance arrives. The best thing you can do is to obtain your CPR certification and gain the knowledge of how to appropriately respond in a medical emergency. The worst thing you can do is nothing.