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Do you help a dying person and does Good Samaritan Law protect you?

Good Samaritan Law may or may not protect you

How many times have we heard the 911 operator’s pleas for help from a staffer at an elderly living facility asking her to give potentially life-saving help to a resident who has stopped breathing? The nurse, whose calm and controlled voice seems to indicate she had no humanity, explained she was unable to help because the Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, California, has a policy against its employees providing medical care.

This seems like an open and shut case. If someone is dying why shouldn’t we offer to help them if possible? How hard is it to give a few chest compressions and potentially save the life of Lorraine Bayless, the patient in question, who later died? Not helping just seems callous, cold and potentially wrong.

Medical professionals argue the case is complicated

What many in the medical field understand, that many of us do not, is that behind every good deed there is a personal injury lawyer waiting to sue if something goes wrong. Legal experts argue that the average lay person should be protected given that most states have a Good Samaritan law which allows them to help without the threat of a lawsuit, but others note these laws have been fiercely challenged and the average person may not be protected.

What seems very odd in this case is that the facility called 911 then refused to follow up on the suggestions of the 911 operator.  Many argue that if you call 911 and they tell you to do CPR you should have the obligation to do it.

But should Glenwood Gardens, which markets itself as an “independent living facility,” be allowed to hide behind its policy that by law it is not “licensed to provide medical care to any of its residents.”

But it’s not like they were asking the nurse to perform heart surgery. CPR is a lifesaving procedure that can be performed by the average citizen. Can it really be considered “medical care”?

The facility is doing a review of their policies, and after the review it is likely the facility will find that this incident resulted from a complete misunderstanding of their practices with regards to emergency medical care for residents.

What is the Good Samaritan Law?

The Good Samaritan law provides that "no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission."

But tell that to a woman who tried to help a driver from a wrecked car in 2009 in California. According to the State Supreme Court, the woman, who removed the driver from the wreckage, actually made the driver’s injuries worse. The court determined she was not protected by Good Samaritan laws.

I work for Meals on Wheels and we also have been told not to help residents in certain situations. For instance, if I enter a home and a client has fallen I am instructed not to help them up. You are to sit with them until emergency personnel arrive so they can examine them because pulling them up could exacerbate their injuries.

Loss of Humanity?

While this policy makes sense I don’t think we should throw all common sense away. Under some conditions a “policy” may need to be ignored, substituted by good judgment. Sometimes decency, love of mankind and value of human life need only be considered.

What I would hate to see is a world where human decency and concern is eliminated because of the threat of job loss or a personal injury claim.

What if one of my clients needs CPR? I would hope I would administer life-saving, emergency CPR before worrying about whether they had a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) or I would get sued, at least if I acted my conscience would allow me to sleep at night.

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