A Melbourne hospital is under fire for allegedly telling a man’s family he'd been discharged, sparking a six-day police search, when in fact he was dead in the morgue.
The man, aged in his 50s, was at a cafe in Geelong West on the afternoon of September 20 when he collapsed as the result of a medical condition, Fairfax reports. He was rushed to Geelong’s University Hospital but died several hours later, and the next day was transferred to the coroner’s mortuary in Southbank, Melbourne. A week after his death, police received a missing person’s report for the man and visited his apartment. When they couldn’t find him, they launched a search.
The hospital was allegedly called five times, including three calls from police, to confirm that the man had been discharged, according to 3AW. But while they “unreservedly apologised” for the distress caused by the incident, Barwon Health claimed in a statement that "the staff in the emergency department made multiple attempts to contact the next of kin listed in the patient’s previous medical record.
"As the case was an unexpected death and the relatives could not be contacted the matter was referred to the coroner,” they said, adding that "once referred to the coroner, it is the role of the police and the coroner to work together to notify the family."
This, evidently, did not happen. In a statement of their own, Victoria Police said that they “have identified some shortcomings in the process of notifying the family of the death of a Geelong West man at a Geelong hospital on September 20.
“Police have spoken to the family of the deceased and apologised for any added stress this has caused during an already difficult time,” the statement declared. “We are currently conducting a comprehensive review of the circumstances surrounding the delay in notifying the family of his death.”
Barwon Health also said that the University Hospital Geelong was reviewing its communications with police around the death.
The deceased was a local at the cafe where he collapsed, according to staff member Pasquale Spasari.
"He would come in daily, sometimes a couple of times a day, and get a coffee or something to eat and talk to the staff," Pasquale said. "He was a friendly man and he lived alone. I don't think he had much family, but he was close to his sister and her family."
While Pasquale himself wasn’t working on the afternoon in question, he said that his manager had phoned the hospital the next day to check on the man’s health and was told that he had been discharged. The owner of the cafe also reportedly called the man’s sister, who did not realise he had been taken to hospital and became distressed when she could not contact him.
It was only after a desperate, six-day search that the man’s family and police figured out he’d been in the morgue the whole time.