The family of a stillborn baby boy has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after several years against the Minnesota hospital where the child was delivered. The lawsuit alleges hospital staff responsible for discarding stillborn babies threw out the boy’s body instead of cremating him as promised.
Esmeralda Hernandez of DeSoto, Texas, delivered her son prematurely at 22 weeks on April 3, 2013, at Regions Hospital located in St. Paul. The family named the boy Jose and kept his body with them in their room overnight to mourn. Staff were not only aware of the family’s decision to do so but encouraged it.
The following day, the family turned down a request for an autopsy out of respect for the child’s body but agreed to allow the hospital to cremate Jose. They promised to handle his body “in a respectful dignified manner” according to court documents. However, two weeks later, an anonymous individual reported to the Red Wing Police Department that employees at Crothall Laundry Services Inc. discovered the child’s body, his still intact diaper, and the identification bracelets given to babies.
According to a police report, the supervisor at Crothall assumed the body had come from Regions, located approximately 45 miles from the facility and that “it is not uncommon for her employees to find medical waste in the linens from Regions, which may consist of tissue, blood, and on occasion, an appendage.” Whenever human remains are discovered, Crothall’s employees make a point to involve local authorities.
“Laundry workers gawked at Baby Jose, took photos of him, and sent pictures of him into cyberspace,” the family’s lawsuit reads. In fact, they claim were not even informed of the incident first-hand and only became aware of the situation after national media outlets had picked up the story. “Regions knew the baby was Baby Jose but decided not to tell Baby Jose’s family what they had done to him,” according to the filing.
The police report also indicated the body of another stillborn baby, Baby Chang, was delivered to Crothall from Regions, likely in the same batch as Jose. Workers packaged the two babies hoping they wouldn’t be discovered in the load. Jose’s family, represented by attorney Chris Messley, specifically accuses the hospital of reckless interference with a dead body and is seeking unspecified damages “far in excess of $50,000” for ongoing pain from their loss and knowledge of the baby’s fate.
In a statement issued by Regions, the staff responded, “We want to say again that we are truly sorry for our mistake. We immediately reached out to the family in 2013 to apologize and to try to help ease their loss. We have continued to work with their lawyer – always open to a reasonable solution.”
The hospital has claimed its employees have taken steps to ensure nothing similar would happen to another family and that its official procedures for such situations are still under review. “We also took immediate steps to ensure that this would not happen again. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reviewed and approved our updated processes in 2014. We continue to review these processes on an ongoing basis.”