A renewed search for the remains of a stillborn who officials believe was mistakenly bundled up with soiled linens bound for a laundry ended Saturday with Regions Hospital officials saying the missing body may never be found.
The stillborn is believed to have been wrapped in linens in the Regions morgue in St. Paul and accidentally sent to a Red Wing laundry facility in the same shipment of linens in which the remains of another stillborn boy were found Tuesday.
Regions apologized again Saturday for the “tragic incident” that top officials have said was an “unacceptable” mistake due to “tragic human error.”
“Unfortunately, we may never know what happened to the remains,” hospital spokeswoman Elizabeth Nicklos said.
The hospital conducted “thorough, thorough searches” Saturday following a search by Crothall Laundry Services on Friday, but Nicklos said no remains were found, concluding the investigation. Pathology records from the last year account for all other stillborn remains.
The unusual incidents are likely sparking conversations not just at Regions, but at hospitals across the country about oversight of stillborn deaths, said Sherokee Ilse, a Maple Plain consultant and author who speaks about coping with stillbirths and miscarriages.
She said the mistaken handling of the remains also brings up broader issues about hospital training and overworked staff.
“We’re always rushing, rushing, rushing, and we’re cutting staff and dollars,” she said. “Maybe these are the kinds of outcomes that happen when all that other chaos is going on.”
Regions Hospital officials said they have implemented extra safeguards such as additional tracking and security in the morgue. And Corthall Laundry, which referred all questions to the hospital, offered counseling last week to employees who found the body.
As a parent who’s dealt with a miscarriage and a stillbirth herself, Ilse said the two incidents have probably added extra trauma to the already grieving families. And although St. Paul police are investigating the incidents, she said it’s rare for cases to result in criminal charges. A similar case in Texas in 2008 and one in Vermont in 2001 ended in court settlements.
“My heart aches for the families, the staff at the hospital and the staff at the facility in Red Wing,” Ilse said. “It’s a tragedy all around.”