Smith: All seniors need to have a living will

Smith: All seniors need to have a living will

March 11th, 2013 By Robin Smith in Opinion Columns

Robin Smith, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and congressional candidate.

The death of 87-year-old Lorraine Bayless, a resident of an independent living facility in California, grabbed our attention last week.

Bayless was at the center of a 911 call placed by an individual who identified herself as a "nurse" but later was noted to be serving in the capacity of a resident services director at Glenwood Gardens, a facility owned by Brookdale Senior Living of Brentwood, Tenn.

For just over seven minutes, the recorded call captured a desperate dispatcher pleading with one who identified herself as a nurse, one qualified to administer care, yet refused to engage in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and refused to allow any other individual present to do the same.

The call was initiated from a cell phone at the independent living center after Bayless collapsed in the facility's dining room.

While independent living facilities are, indeed, not licensed to provide medical care, the only reason emergency care should have been denied this woman in need was a directive in writing, a "Do-Not-Resuscitate" order, prepared by the individual and/or the power of attorney acting on that individual's behalf. This "DNR" did not exist.

After the event, the family of the deceased's said that she wanted to die "naturally" -- but that statement held no authority as this emergency situation unfolded.

The spokesman on behalf of this particular facility later claimed the actions of the nurse/resident services director "resulted from a complete misunderstanding of our practice with regards to emergency medical care." The employee was placed on "voluntary leave" while the company "is conducting a full investigation."

Later, Bayless died. Be reminded, she was denied the most basic of emergency care, not major medical heroics.

The published photos of Bayless do not reflect a sickly, nor frail, individual. Instead, she was neatly dressed and groomed with a Facebook page touting 41 "friends" and acknowledging her high school alma mater in New York State.

Website photos of the Glenwood Gardens facility in Bakersfield, Calif., show a multistoried complex resembling an apartment village lined with palm trees. The website says residents get "specially tailored meals in our elegant dining room by one of our chefs" and are encouraged to "dip in the private community pool or spa" where "our residents receive the best there is to offer" for "an average" of $2,262 per month.

The facility's website goes on to declare the "premiere independent assisted living facility" features "emergency call systems" in "all units to provide access to assistance twenty-four hours a day" with "caring staff trained and equipped to give aid or assistance whenever needed or requested."

Really?

So, what are the lessons to be learned?

Regardless of age, you should have a living will that is legally prepared and available to all individuals who would have any role in your care. Spell it out to avoid your survival being in the hands of a misunderstood policy.

A second, sad lesson is that the value of life among our youngest and oldest is devalued in our culture. Despite the "luxurious features" of the surroundings, the decision to withhold aid to an individual was based on a personal opinion of their usefulness to society at 87 years of age.

Our calloused culture is driven by narcissism, pathological selfishness and an unquenchable thirst for personal comfort. A society is not "progressive" if it is amoral.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm.