A care home in Iowa has been fined $10,000 after wrongly declaring a patient dead. The woman, who was 66 years old, had spent almost 50 minutes zipped inside a body bag while being transported to a funeral home before staff members realized she was still alive.
She was presumed dead at 6 am on January 3 at Glen Oaks Alzheimer’s Special Care Center in Urbandale, Iowa, where she had been admitted with end-stage early onset dementia, anxiety, and depression.
Her “mouth was open, her eyes were fixed, and there were no breath sounds,” says a report from the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. The nurse attending the patient was also unable to locate a pulse.
After being declared dead, the woman’s family was informed and the funeral home contacted.
At 7:38 am, the funeral director arrived, zipping the “body” into a cloth bag before driving it to the funeral home. There were “no signs of life at that time,” the report said.
However, just before 8:30 am, staff at the home no doubt had the shock of their life when they unzipped the bag to find her chest moving as she “gasped for air”. Though she was still breathing, and workers were able to record a pulse, there was no eye movement and no verbal or motor response.
The woman was initially transferred to an emergency room before being brought back to the Alzheimer’s care center, where she died two days later with her family by her side.
The hospice has since been fined $10,000, the maximum allowed under Iowa law, for two state violations. The facility “failed to provide adequate direction to ensure appropriate cares and services were provided,” according to the report, which also cites the home’s additional failure “to ensure residents received dignified treatment and care at end of life.”
Unfortunately for those with a (perhaps not so) irrational fear of being buried alive, this is far from the first time that someone has been declared dead when they were still living. “Corpses” that are actually alive have made their way to the morgue before now (some have even been mistakenly frozen) and one extremely unlucky woman “woke up” at her own funeral.
The line between dead and alive can be a fine one, as these cases demonstrate, making it all the more difficult for medical professionals to decipher when dying crosses over into death.