Funeral Home Staff Unzipped a Body Bag, Got Quite a Shock

Woman who'd been declared dead at Iowa continuing care facility was actually still alive
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2023 8:34 AM CST
She Was Pronounced Dead, Then Woke 'Gasping for Air'
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/greenleaf123)

At least four people who were sure a woman with early-onset dementia at a continuing care home in Iowa had passed away didn't get it right, and the facility is now facing a hefty fine. ABC News reports on the incident out of Urbandale, where the 66-year-old in hospice care at Glen Oaks Alzheimer's Special Care Center was pronounced dead in the early morning hours of Jan. 3. The first person to suspect the woman had died was a staffer who'd already put in a 12-hour shift, though the resident nurse practitioner that staffer informed also found that the patient wasn't breathing and had no pulse, per a report filed Wednesday by the Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals.

The nurse practitioner made the declaration of death about an hour and a half after the staff member had alerted others. The report notes the woman was also found to have mottled skin, usually a sign of impending death as blood circulation starts to slow, per the Des Moines Register. The woman also didn't appear to be alive to a second nurse practitioner and employee from the Ankeny Funeral Home & Crematory as she was zipped into a body bag and placed in a funeral home vehicle for transport, per the report. The ride to the funeral home was about 40 minutes, the citation notes, and when the body bag arrived, staffers there were in for a shock, per People.

"Staff unzipped the bag and observed Resident #1's chest was moving and she was gasping for air," the report states. Workers called 911, and when first responders arrived, they were able to find a pulse and shallow breathing. The woman was rushed to a local hospital, then sent back to hospice care, where she died two days later, with her family by her side, the report notes. Glen Oaks was hit with a $10,000 fine, though criminal charges aren't being filed, a rep for the Ankeny Police Department tells the Register.

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The Department of Inspection and Appeals found that the care facility "failed to provide adequate direction to ensure appropriate cares and services were provided." Lisa Eastman, the executive director of the center, says, "We care deeply about our residents" and that "all of our employees are given regular training in how best to support end-of-life care and the death transition for our residents." The center was cited last year for numerous violations, including ones related to drug storage, resident discharges, and resident records, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported at the time. (More funeral home stories.)

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