Nebraska hospice patient declared dead found alive at funeral home

In a startling incident, a 74-year-old hospice patient in Nebraska, initially declared dead by her nursing home, was discovered alive by funeral home workers. The patient, who had been pronounced dead two hours earlier, was found breathing when laid on the embalming table at Butherus Maser & Love Funeral Home in Lincoln. Despite immediate CPR and rushing her to a hospital, she passed away hours later.

This case has raised questions about the frequency of such incidents, with at least two similar occurrences reported in New York and Iowa within the past 18 months. The patient was under hospice care at The Mulberry nursing home in Waverly, a Lincoln suburb, before being declared dead on Monday morning.

Chief Deputy Ben Houchin of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office expressed shock at the discovery. “I can’t imagine their shock,” he remarked. He confirmed that the woman was transported to a Lincoln hospital where she died that afternoon.

The sheriff’s office is investigating the incident but has not found any evidence of legal violations. Houchin noted that it is common for nursing homes not to notify the sheriff’s department when a hospice patient dies. The woman’s doctor, who had seen her recently, was prepared to sign her death certificate as her death was anticipated, but this had not occurred before she was found alive.

Houchin suggested that the nursing home might review their protocols following this incident. “I’m sure the nursing home and everybody’s going to be taking a look into what has happened,” he said. Efforts to reach the nursing home for comment were unsuccessful.

This event follows two other premature death declarations: one in New York last year and another in Iowa, where a nursing home was fined $10,000. Jessica Koth, a spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association, stated that such occurrences were previously unheard of in her nearly two decades in the industry. She emphasized that funeral directors rely on medical professionals to determine death and do not have procedures for verifying it themselves.

“Usually when someone dies, it’s not like the funeral director is there immediately. There’s usually some time that passes. So surely someone might notice that an error had been made,” Koth said, adding that the event must have been extremely difficult for the woman’s family. “I can imagine how difficult it would be for the family as well to go on such an emotional roller-coaster,” she added.

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