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Wrongful CPR death? Bakersfield 911 call goes international

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A 911 call from a Bakersfield independent living facility drew international attention after an elderly woman died when staffers refused to administer CPR last Tuesday. The 87-year-old had collapsed in the facility's dining room and was struggling to breath.

For much of the seven-minute call, 911 operator Tracy Halvorson pleaded frantically with with a staff member to start CPR or locate someone who would.

"She's going to die if we don't get this started," Halvorson said. The caller, who identified herself as a nurse, indicated she wasn't authorized to perform CPR.

The incident occurred at Glenwood Gardens retirement community in Bakersfeild. Executive director Jeffrey Toomer did not return repeated requests for comment from KPCC. In a statement released to other media, Toomer defended staff members' actions saying they followed protocol. 

State officials were scrambling to piece together details of the incident. Russ Heimerich, spokesman for California Department of Consumer Affairs, which includes the state nursing board, said his agency was looking into the incident. He said his agency heard reports today that the woman was not a nurse, as she reported to the 911 operator.

"Certainly if we learn that this individual is either a registered nurse or a vocational nurse we'll likely open an investigation," he said. An on-duty nurse would be required to take action under California's Nursing Practice Act. 

Kern County Fire Department Chief Michael Miller praised the way Halvorson handled the call. 

"She followed protocol just fine," he said. "She just wanted to help and unfortunately wasn't able to."

Halvorson is part of a call center that handles 66,000 calls a year. She's been at home since the incident to take time to regroup, Miller said.

Unlike assisted living facilities, California law doesn't require CPR training for staff at independent living facilities like Glenwood Gardens. Michael Westin, a spokesman for the agency that oversees assisted living faciliites, the California Department of Social Services, said officers visited Glenwood Gardens today to check on the assisted living section of the facility and found no violations. The incident occurred completely within the facility's independent living section, he said.