A former St. Paul woman is suing Regions Hospital for throwing out her stillborn son with dirty laundry in 2013, and then failing to contact the family once the boy’s remains were discovered.
Esmeralda Hernandez, who now resides in Texas, gave birth to “Baby José” at Regions on April 3, 2013. The 22-week-old baby was stillborn. Hernandez agreed with Regions’ offer to cremate José in a “respectful and dignified manner,” the suit said, but instead, the boy was found April 16 by workers cleaning the hospital’s dirty laundry at the Crothall Laundry Services, Inc. facility in Red Wing.
“A worker in a laundry facility hired by Regions, was horrified when he opened Regions’ dirty laundry and Baby José’s body, still in his diaper and hospital identification bracelets, flew out and landed on a metal grate,” said the lawsuit filed earlier this month in Ramsey County District Court by Hernandez and her family. “Laundry workers gawked at Baby José, took photos of him, and sent pictures of him into cyberspace.”
The lawsuit and hospital officials said that a second stillborn baby was also sent out with the laundry that month. “We want to say again that we are truly sorry for our mistake,” said a written statement issued Wednesday by Ashley Burt, communications director at Regions Hospital. “We immediately reached out to the family in 2013 to apologize and to try to help ease their loss.”
Attorneys for the Hernandez family, Elizabeth Fors and Chris Messerly, held a news conference Wednesday to address statements Regions made in the media earlier this week saying that the hospital immediately reached out to the family. They displayed large photos of the baby being cradled soon after birth, and lying on a metal grate at the laundry facility. The Hernandez family was not present.
“We had no intention of speaking publicly,” Messerly said. “However, Regions has decided to make it public by making comments that have greatly distressed and added insult to injury to this family.”
The suit alleges that Regions failed to contact police after laundry personnel alerted the hospital about the baby. The hospital also knew the baby was José because of identification bracelets, but didn’t divulge that information to the Hernandez family until the next day, when the incident had become worldwide news, and only after the Hernandez family initiated contact with Regions, the suit said.
Regions first went on “damage control” in 2013 by addressing the media, Messerly said, and then the Hernandez family contacted the hospital based on news reports.
In a statement, Burt contested Messerly’s version of events.
“Mr. Messerly’s description of our outreach to the family misrepresents our intentions and actions during that time,” she said. “We always work to be timely and open with our patients, and we worked hard to do so here.”
According to the suit: An anonymous tipster called Red Wing police on April 16, 2013, and said that workers had found a baby at the laundry facility.
The facility’s manager called Regions, which sent two people to pick up the remains.
A detective interviewed a Crothall employee “who acknowledged that ‘she received a picture of the baby on her cell this morning,’ ” the suit said. “Further, she told the police that ‘the picture has been passed around to several people.’ ”
The hospital issued a statement and held a news conference on April 17, 2013, saying that the baby had been wrapped in linen in the morgue and mistaken for laundry.
“Baby José’s family then called Regions to ask whether the baby it threw away was their Baby José,” the suit said. “Regions refused to answer. Instead, they asked the family to come to the hospital.”
Hospital officials eventually told the Hernandez family that the baby in news stories was José, the suit said.
The Ramsey County medical examiner’s office performed an autopsy on José, which the family had not wanted after his birth. The exam found that he suffered a subdural hematoma and “moderate” decomposition.
Hernandez and nine of her relatives are suing Regions for damages in excess of $50,000 for past and future mental pain and suffering.
Fors and Messerly said the family wants to prevent Regions from disposing other babies or patients’ appendages similarly in the future.
“Not a day goes by when this family does not think about the indignity that Baby José suffered when Regions tossed him out with the dirty laundry,” Fors said.
Messerly said Hernandez was a “vibrant” young woman before the incident, and is now “withdrawn.” She has no other children. “When I’ve talked to her, she’s been in tears,” he said. “I don’t think she can ever get over it.”
Court records unrelated to the Hernandez suit show that a 14-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted gave birth at Regions in April of 2013.
“The analysis that was done is that it was all part of the same situation,” Burt said of both babies.
The second baby’s remains have never been found, she said.