Santa Cruz Sentinel has an article about the tragedy that is all too common for many nursing home residents.  Nursing homes fail to train on what DNR status means, and far too often simple care is not provided that would save a resident’s life.  Below are excerpts from the article.

The Tragedy: On Sept. 11, 2007, a 71-year-old woman with cancer was transferred to Pacific Care Manor, a nursing home in Capitola. Just prior to her admission, the woman’s doctor noted that her patient was lucid and responsive and "could have years to live." Most importantly, the patient had also expressed a desire to live.

Shortly after her admission, the woman began refusing food, water and any treatment. Within two days, she was screaming and combative. On day three, the nursing staff suggested that lab work be ordered to determine the cause of the resident’s distress. The facility’s director of nursing overruled the suggestion because "once we know what is going on then we will have to treat her." Instead, the nursing director asked the facility doctor to prescribe pain medication and a "do not resuscitate" order. The doctor complied and, despite the woman’s documented opiate intolerance, he prescribed a Fentanyl patch, Haldol, morphine. He also wrote an order for "no CPR, no hospitalization." His patient cried out "you are all going to kill me" after the forcible administration of the prescribed medications. On Sept. 16, just five days after her admission, the resident died. 

All residents of nursing homes have the right to grant or withhold consent to any proposed treatment.  Residents have the right to refuse or consent to treatment and to receive all information relevant to making their treatment decisions. Providing such information is part of any responsible nursing home’s assessment and care planning process. Federal regulations also reaffirm residents’ rights to informed consent and to refuse treatment.

Regardless of a resident’s mental capacity, no facility may administer treatment unless the resident has agreed or has been specifically adjudicated incompetent by a state court judge. Even after a court has determined that a resident is incompetent, it must make additional findings before terminating a resident’s right to refuse treatment. Without a court order, the provision of any treatment over a resident’s express refusal is a violation of several residents rights and is criminal battery.

Similarly, doctors cannot order "Do Not Resuscitate" orders without the written authorization of their patients. For DNR orders, designated health care agents may sign for the patient. However, doctors may not unilaterally impose DNR orders without a resident or resident representative signature.

Nursing homes throughout California are accustomed to interposing their notions of a resident’s best interests over the expressed wishes of their residents. The Department of Public Health and resident advocates have been generally weak in preventing this illegal conduct. Hopefully, the tragedy in Capitola will serve as a warning to both facilities and advocates about the deadly consequences of disregarding residents’ critical rights to direct their own treatment.

Anthony Chicotel is an attorney for the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform in San Francisco.