Editor’s Note: This article contains graphic content some readers may find disturbing.
In 2013, Esmeralda Hernandez went into early labor at just 22 weeks, giving birth to a stillborn baby. Hospital staff told the grieving mother that they would provide cremation services, but nothing could have prepared her for what happened to her baby instead.
As The Washington Post reports, according to a lawyer for the Hernandez family, staff at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, told the new mother her baby, whom she named José, would be cremated in a “respectful and dignified manner.”
The baby was then wrapped in linen and placed on a shelf in the morgue.
According to the Duluth News Tribune, approximately two weeks later, local media outlets began reporting the story of a deceased baby found at the hospital’s laundry facility. Employees at Crothall Laundry Services reportedly found the newborn still wearing his diaper and hospital bracelet inside a bag of dirty linens.
An office manager reportedly later told police it was “not uncommon” for employees “to find medical waste in the linens from Regions, which may consist of tissue, blood, and on occasion, an appendage” when going through dirty linens.
Hernandez heard the details about the baby on the news, and according to legal documents, contacted Regions to inquire about the discovery. That’s when she was told it was her baby.
Hernandez and several other family members have now filed a civil suit against the hospital for the reckless interference of a dead body. According to the Post, the family alleges Regions Hospital showed a “disregard” and “indifference” for the family’s rights and contends that had they not inquired about the remains after hearing about it on the news, the hospital would have never told them.
Hernandez further claims that while staff at the laundry facility notified Regions Hospital as instructed after finding the baby, the hospital reportedly did not notify police.
Police were reportedly tipped off to the discovery by the mother of an employee at the facility. According to a police report, the woman’s mother told officers:
“She said she was upset because her daughter had to see this dead baby and they wouldn’t let her leave work.”
Upon an investigation of the incident, an employee at the facility told police he had been opening the bags of dirty laundry from the hospital when he felt something hit his shoulder.
Nick Murphy, whom police noted in their report was “visibly upset” as he recounted what happened, said a colleague pointed out what it was:
“Dude, look down at the floor,” the other employee reportedly said.
Regions Hospital then reportedly told authorities Hernandez consented to the disposal of her baby’s body without a funeral.
In a statement, the hospital apologized for its negligence:
We want to say again that we are truly sorry for our mistake,” the statement read. “We immediately reached out to the family in 2013 to apologize and to try and help ease their loss. We have continued to work with their lawyer — always open to a reasonable resolution.
The family’s lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $50,000 each for the “mental pain and suffering” as a result of the hospital’s alleged actions.
According to the Post, the family’s lawsuit also alleges that the hospital is responsible for the missing remains of another baby who was “most probably delivered to the same laundry service.” The boy, born four days after José, had not been found at the time.
Christine Boese, Region’s chief nursing officer at the time, told Minnesota Public Radio that an internal review of the hospital revealed that both José and the other little boy, Chang, had been mistaken for dirty linens and placed in the laundry at the same time by an employee.
In a news conference following the discovery of José’s remains, Boese said the hospital was “deeply saddened and troubled” and was working to make sure an incident like that would never happen again.
Regions Hospital reportedly plans on filing an answer to Hernandez family’s lawsuit.