Body In Morgue 9 Days Before Family Learns Of Death

November 19, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

For nine days, they didn't know he had died.

While Sandy Bowman and Marcie Barnes thought their 80-year-old grandfather was recuperating in a nursing home, his body was lying in the morgue at North Arundel Hospital.

The granddaughters were shocked when a doctor called last Thursday to tell them their grandfather, Clyde Young, had died in the emergency room more than a week earlier.

Outraged by what they consider "careless" and "negligent" behavior, the women are urging the Glen Burnie hospital to improve its policies on informing relatives about a death.

"It was shocking, to say the least," said Bowman, 46, of Germantown. "I feel like I'm living in a soap opera. I mean this is notsomething you could just overlook, it really isn't."

Hospital administrators met yesterday to discuss the procedure on notifying family members when a patient has died. The hospital is considering double-checking that a physician has informed relatives after a body has been unclaimed for a number of days, said spokesman Kevin Murnane.

"It's the physician's responsibility to notify a family of a death," he said. "The idea is that the medical staff can explain things to thefamily."

Young's body remained unclaimed in the morgue for nine days while his grandchildren assumed he had been discharged because ofa "breakdown in communication," hospital officials said.

Most bodies are claimed within a day, and even organ donors normally are out of the morgue in a week, Murnane said.

Young, who was living at a nursing home down the street from the hospital, was taken to the emergency room Nov. 5 after he began struggling to breathe. Within an hour of his admission, Young died of respiratory and heart failure, saidhis physician, Dr. James J. Benjamin of Millersville.

Benjamin said he didn't know Young had any relatives living nearby and assumed North Arundel Nursing and Convalescent Center would inform next-of-kinof the death. But the nursing home thought Benjamin had notified thefamily.

When nobody showed up to claim the body, the morgue called the emergency room staff, who contacted Benjamin. The doctor said he was "flabbergasted" to learn that no relatives had been notified.

"There was some ambiguity about who the attending physician was because the doctor at the nursing home sent him over," Benjamin said yesterday. "I assumed the nursing home would have the doctor call the family. I was flabbergasted when the hospital called nine days later."

Benjamin apologized to the family and explained the miscommunication, Bowman said. Even though Benjamin signed the death certificate, Bowman said she holds the hospital equally responsible for failing to notify her of her grandfather's death.

The nursing home called thefamily the day Young was taken to the hospital, Bowman said. When her brother went to see him that night, an admissions secretary punchedYoung's name into the computer and said that he was no longer there.The family assumed he had been discharged to the nursing home.

The grandchildren didn't call because Young had become senile and was frequently upset when he talked over the telephone, Bowman said.

"Sometimes we would just peek in the door and check on him because he would get so out of sorts," she said. "It just seems a shame for somebody to live 80 years and then when they die, something like this happens."

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