Iowa care facility fined $10K for pronouncing woman dead when she was still alive

URBANDALE, Iowa — A hospice care facility in Iowa was fined $10,000 after workers mistakenly declared a woman dead and sent her to a funeral home in a body bag, officials said.

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According to a report from the Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals, a staff member at the Glen Oaks Alzheimer’s Special Care Center in Urbandale reported that a 66-year-old woman had died at about 6 a.m. CST on Jan. 3, the Des Moines Register reported.

The woman, who had been in hospice care since Dec. 28, had been admitted to Glen Oaks in December 2021, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. She had a diagnosis of end-stage, early onset dementia, anxiety and depression, according to the newspaper. She also had a do-not-resuscitate order in place, according to the state’s report.

On Jan. 3, the staff member at Glen Oaks, who reported she could no longer feel the woman’s pulse, alerted a nurse practitioner, who made the death declaration, the Register reported.

In Iowa, nurses and physicians, along with doctors, are allowed to declare a patient dead, according to the newspaper.

According to the report, a funeral director from Ankeny Funeral Home and Mortuary picked up the woman at about 7:38 a.m., KCCI-TV reported.

She was placed in a body bag and sent to the funeral home. When she arrived at about 8:26 a.m., staff members unzipped the bag and saw the woman’s chest was moving, the Register reported. They immediately called 911 after the woman “gasped for air,” according to KCCI.

Paramedics registered a pulse on the woman but said “there was no eye movement, no verbal or vocal response and no motor response,” the report stated.

In a statement, Robert Chiappano, the deputy chief for the city of Ankeny, said that the Ankeny Fire Department received a call from the funeral home and responded within three minutes.

“The initial dispatch information was for a cardiac arrest,” Chiappano said. “The crew determined that the patient was not in cardiac arrest and began treating the patient per standing protocols. The patient was moved to the ambulance and transported to Mercy West Lakes (in West Des Moines) for further evaluation.”

According to the inspection and appeals report, the woman was later returned to hospice care, where she died on Jan. 5, according to the Register.

The woman died with her family at her side, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

In its report, the Department of Inspection and Appeals determined that the care center had “failed to provide adequate direction to ensure appropriate cares and services were provided” in the instance of declaring the woman dead.

Lisa Eastman, the executive director of the Glen Oaks Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, told the Register that the facility has been in close communication with the woman’s family.

“We care deeply about our residents and we remain fully committed to supporting their end-of-life care,” Eastman said. “All of our employees are given regular training in how best to support end-of-life care and the death transition for our residents.”

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