W.Pa. senior care facilities tout emergency preparedness

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Officials at local independent-living facilities for seniors said on Tuesday that their policies and training guard against a replay of a California incident during which a nurse refused a 911 dispatcher's desperate pleas to perform CPR on a dying 87-year-old woman.

“To have somebody stand and do nothing seems unrealistic,” said Marilyn Walsh, spokeswoman for Baptist Homes in Mt. Lebanon. “We would promote giving CPR.”

Walsh said staff members are trained to use automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, and perform CPR.

Much like the California facility, Baptist Homes offers various living arrangements including: independent living, where seniors live completely on their own; assisted living, which provides help with tasks such as dressing and taking medications; and skilled nursing, which offers more intensive, hands-on daily medical care.

In the California case, a police dispatcher unsuccessfully tried for seven minutes to persuade a nurse to help or find someone else to assist an elderly woman who collapsed in the facility's dining room.

Paramedics said they found Lorraine Bayless lying on the ground without a pulse. She was pronounced dead in a hospital.

The incident has sparked a national debate about whether the nurse acted correctly.The Bakersfield facility defended the nurse, saying she followed its policy and that “our practice is to immediately call medical personnel for assistance and wait with the individual needing assistance until such personnel arrives.”

Police are investigating whether there was any criminal wrongdoing.

At Redstone Highlands Senior Living Community, which operates facilities in Greensburg, Murrysville and two in North Huntingdon, help is always available to residents living independently, said spokeswoman Vicki Loucks.

She said even maintenance and security staff members are trained in CPR and basic first aid.

“We've gone that route because we have limited staff at night, and if an apartment person has an emergency at night, we want our staff to be all hands on deck,” she said.

Apartment dwellers needing help can use emergency call buttons, which send wireless signals to equipment carried by staff, Loucks said.

“We take care of about 500 residents on any given day” and there have been incidents where residents have needed immediate medical attention, Loucks said.

At the Bethel Park Independent Senior Living Community, the staff is told to call 911, follow the directions of emergency personnel and render whatever assistance they feel comfortable offering, according to spokeswoman Chelsea Henkel.

For example, she said, some staff might not be trained in CPR and might not feel confident attempting to perform chest compressions on a resident.

“(But) there is nothing in our policy that prevents employees from following directions of emergency services personnel,” she said.

Staff at Presbyterian Senior Care in Oakmont are trained to perform CPR and use AED machines, spokeswoman Janice Citeroni said. They are encouraged to use their skills with all residents, including those in the independent living community, she said.

All Pennsylvania senior living facilities are licensed through the state's Department of Public Welfare. A condition of the license states that if someone is present and able, they are obligated to assist during a medical emergency, according to department spokeswoman Donna Morgan.

“If someone is available and able, they will perform CPR,” Morgan said.If a nurse did not assist during a medical emergency, the facility would be cited for a violation and that nurse would be reported to the state, Morgan said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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