Officials searching for the body of a second stillborn baby missing from Regions Hospital now believe it may also have been in a basket of linens sent to a Red Wing laundry this week.
On Tuesday, the remains of a stillborn boy were discovered by Crothall Laundry Services workers in the company’s Red Wing facility, 45 miles south of the St. Paul hospital. The second body has not been found.
During a Friday afternoon teleconference, Chris Boese, Regions’ chief nursing officer, said, “We have searched everywhere” for the second body, but admitted that officials may never know what happened to the remains.
“As we investigated, our records indicated that there should have been another set of remains in the same location,” Boese said. “We have now ruled out that those remains went to the funeral home or to another location … We believe both sets of remains were mistaken as empty linens and placed in the laundry at the same time by a hospital worker.”
Calling the incidents “tragic human error,” Boese said the hospital has been in contact with both of the babies’ families. The Ramsey County medical examiner’s office is examining the stillborn found Tuesday.
During the Friday news conference, Brock Nelson, president and CEO of Regions, called the mistake “unacceptable.”
“In terms of accountability, all of us are accountable,” Nelson said, stopping short of placing blame on or identifying a particular worker.
Regions Hospital has reviewed pathology records from the last year, and all other stillborn remains have been properly accounted for, officials said.
The hospital has now implemented safeguards to prevent similar errors in handling human remains, including “an improved identification process that ensures a clear visual identification,” as well as an enhanced tracking process and an additional layer of security and supervision in the area of the hospital where the remains had been taken.
In addition to its internal investigation, the hospital is cooperating with regulatory inquiries from the Minnesota Department of Health.
On Friday, Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman was surprised to hear that there was a second stillborn that could have been taken to the facility. “We did not receive any other calls, so I know nothing about this,” he said. No other remains had been reported by laundry workers.
According to reports by the Red Wing police, around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, police spoke on the phone with an anonymous caller who said she had received a text message from an acquaintance at the laundry service around 10 a.m. that said there was a dead baby there.
She informed police that she was told that the laundry contacted a hospital and someone from the hospital “came and picked up the baby and put it in a plastic bag and just left.”
According to the reports, Red Wing police contacted St. Paul police and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) about the case. St. Paul police contacted Regions. The Ramsey County medical examiner’s office went to the hospital and took possession of the body, when it was notified by the BCA, according to the reports.
The St. Paul Police Department is leading an investigation into the case with the help of Red Wing police and the medical examiner’s office.
According to the Red Wing police, the first case has been sent to the Goodhue County attorney’s office for review for any possible criminal charges.
On Friday, laundry officials confirmed that only one of the missing stillborn babies had been found.
“Crothall Healthcare is prepared to do whatever it can to help the hospital and grieving parents put this distressing matter to rest,” President Steve Carpenter said Friday. “Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this sad situation.”
Boese said earlier she could not recall an incident like this ever occurring at Regions, which averages about 2,500 births a year. About 20 to 25 result in stillbirth.