A Failure to Communicate

ht_lorraine_bayless_nt_130304_wg2The topic of End-of-Life Care took another turn on February 26th with the passing of Mrs. Lorraine Bayless (pictured left) at Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, California.  As I write this, there is still a lot of conflicting information circulating on the Internet about what happened that day and why.  And there is certainly no shortage of opinions about what went wrong – or not. There also appears to be a great deal of misunderstanding on what a CCRC is, what services and care are provided – and what care responsibilities a CCRC has to its independent living residents.

There are elements of this story that, if for no other reason than respect for Mrs. Bayless’ family, should remain with this story – i.e., primarily an assessment of Glenwood Gardens’ policies and procedures. But there are also elements of this story that transcend our need to better understand and assess models of care relative to individual rights and end-of-life care. It is in the latter interest I offer this post.

Last August, I wrote a post, CCRCs: Healthcare Providers – Or Not? I wrote then,
for a segment of the senior population, typically over the age of 75, CCRCs are a very attractive retirement housing option. They offer the comfort and security of a community tailored to meet the physical and emotional needs of seniors, the social energy of a community setting and the critically important peace of mind that personal services, assistance and care are available, when and if needed, removing that potential caregiving burden from their adult children raising families of their own.”

Ah, but there’s the rub that I think this story will eventually wind its way towards: what constitutes, “when and if needed?” And who gets to decide when and if its needed? On the afternoon of February 26th at Glenwood Gardens, the 87-year old Mrs. Bayless clearly needed assistance if she were to have a chance to live (it was subsequently determined by her physician that she passed away from a massive stroke, most likely owing to what had been previously diagnosed as disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain).

Many of the news stories I have read characterize Mrs. Bayless’ residence as being independent living – as if it were conceptually unique and separate from the other offerings at Glenwood Gardens; i.e., assisted living, nursing care, Alzheimer’s/dementia care and hospice. While there is physical separation between the facilities providing these services and care, the underlying market positioning of a CCRC is their availability on a single campus.

The overt selling point being that someone does not have to move from the campus when and if they need services and care that extend beyond what is available through independent living. In fact, Glenwood Gardens’ website promotes having 24-hour access to staff. Whether this can be interpreted as having access to emergency medical care provided by nursing staff in other areas of the CCRC I think is going to get a lot of discussion and debate.

I think the more immediate questions here, however, are first, whether Mrs. Bayless would have wanted life-saving efforts performed.  In statements afterwards her family seemed to indicate she would not, though Mrs. Bayless did not have any advance directives in place, and the paramedics that arrived on the scene ultimately provided CPR in any event.  And second, would CPR, if started earlier, have been helpful. Very often, CPR is ineffective in such situations – and when it is effective in reviving a frail elderly person it can often result in terrible injury, leaving the individual incapacitated and facing a prolonged and painful death.

As challenging and difficult as they are, it would be nice to think these were the questions guiding management’s and staff’s decision making of that afternoon. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.  In a statement, Brookdale Senior Living, owner of Glenwood Gardens, said, “this incident resulted from a complete misunderstanding of our practice with regards to emergency medical care for our residents. We are conducting a company-wide review of our policies involving emergency medical care across all of our communities.”

When the dust finally settles I think  what we will find is a failure to communicate on multiple levels and between multiple parties. If Mrs. Bayless’ wishes were clearly understood by her family, why was a DNR order not in place? If management at Glenwood Gardens understood corporate policy and procedure, why is Brookdale Senior Living now leaving them out to dry? If the staff at Glenwood Gardens clearly understood policy, why was the person on the 911 call seeking the input of others to affirm her position?

So the key takeaway I have from this story and all of the opinions surrounding it is that it reinforces the critical importance of effective communication – and how very often its lacking stands in the way of better healthcare. The same core ability that must be a critical element of any strategic planning effort we engage in with leadership teams at healthcare provider clients is just as applicable to any effort that involves human beings for which there are expectations those individuals will work together to achieve desirable results.

As I have written before, it is truly amazing that today we live in a world where communication has never been easier – yet never been more difficult.


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