Human beings deserve to die with dignity. In the United States, most Americans die in their homes. However, according to that Reuters Health feature, it was as recent as 2017 that most Americans died in Hospitals. This change reflects a development in our values and in how we view healthcare. For expected deaths—where the person has declined in health or is receiving active medical care due to their condition—there is some control over where the person actually dies.
And after at least 30 years where most of those deaths took place in hospitals, Americans became more comfortable with other more comfortable settings for saying goodbye. This includes nursing facilities, hospice and the home. Expected deaths often coincide with the termination of chronic illnesses, which typically cause pain and discomfort. Thus, the healthcare and the death industry have evolved to deal with those conditions and use drugs and other substances to control pain for people ready to let go. However, the location itself can be therapeutic. Indeed, the proportion of deaths in hospice went from .2% in 2003, up to 8.3% as of the 2017 study (embed same link). As Haider Warraich told Reuters Health, “…regardless of where you are or how sick you are, home is the number one choice [to die].”
Even when your loved one is ill and in decline, they are still entitled to diligent care and dignity. Which is why the story of a woman in Urbandale, Iowa is so disturbing. On January 3, 2023, the unidentified woman was a resident at the Glen Oaks Alzheimer’s Special Care Center. That morning, the nurse claims that she checked on the woman and did not note any signs of life. The facility contacted the local Funeral Home, who sent a vehicle to take possession of the body.
More than two hours later, at the Funeral Home, they opened the cloth body bag to discover the shocking surprise that the woman was still alive. This was a patient who was suffering from the ravages of Alzheimer’s who found herself sealed in a body bag, moved, and suddenly in an unfamiliar place (the offices of a nursing home). The Funeral Director contacted the facility and the family. Eventually, the woman was returned and later died at the Glen Oaks facility with her family at her side.
This story is shocking and unsettling. However, it did not need to happen. Nursing and residence home staff are trained to care for people in compromised health conditions. That is the reason that the patient is at a skilled nursing facility or even a hospice facility. That includes competent examinations to ensure that their patients are receiving adequate and proper medical and personal care. If you have concerns about whether the staff at a residential facility are caring for your loved one, you can speak with one of our attorneys right now. There is no reason to wait and no reason not to ask questions. The sooner you do, the sooner changes can be made. They should be made before it’s too late.