A 66-year-old Iowa woman woke up inside a body bag “gasping for air” after her nursing home assumed she died and shipped her to a funeral home.
The Glen Oaks Alzheimer’s Special Care Center in suburban Des Moines is facing $10,000 in fines after three staffers were unable to tell that the unidentified woman, who died two days later, was still alive, according to a report released Wednesday by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
The distressing tale began when a staffer struggled to find the woman’s pulse early Jan. 3 morning. The patient, who suffered from early-onset dementia, anxiety and depression, had been moved into the center’s hospice care just six days earlier.
The report also said that the woman had been suffering from minor seizures, displayed “diminished” lung sounds and showed signs of mottled skin in the days before the incident.
The staffer, who was on the tail end of her 12-hour shift, alerted a nurse practitioner, who told investigators she also couldn’t find a heartbeat and didn’t see the woman breathing, the report said.
The 66-year-old patient was declared dead around 6:30 a.m., 90 minutes after the first staffer raised suspicions.
A funeral home employee and a second nurse practitioner — neither of whom noticed signs of life on the woman — placed her into a body bag and transported her to the Ankeny Funeral Home & Crematory, where workers noticed she was very much alive.
“At approximately 8:26 a.m. funeral home staff unzipped the bag and observed Resident #1’s chest was moving and she was gasping for air,” the report said.
The funeral home called 911 and she was transported to a nearby hospital, where she was found to be breathing, but unresponsive.
She was returned to hospice and died two days later with her family by her side.
Though the state determined that the care center “failed to provide adequate direction to ensure appropriate cares and services were provided” before the woman was declared dead, the Ankeny police department is not pursuing criminal charges.
Lisa Eastman, executive director of the Glen Oaks Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, said that the center’s staff cares “deeply for our residents and remain fully committed to supporting their end-of-life care.”
“All of our employees are given regular training in how best to support end-of-life care and the death transition for our residents,” Eastman said.
The fine is not the first bestowed on the Glen Oaks center. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported last February that it was fined $500 for failing to perform the required background checks on employees. It found five workers had not received the required training to work in a memory-care facility.
With Post wires
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