Hospital Confuses Survivor And Victim Of Traffic Accident, Tells Families Wrong News

St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Arizona mixed up the identities of two women involved in a car crash last week, says CNN, leading to some intensely unpleasant fake-outs for both families involved.

Hospital officials say they didn’t have enough identifying information on the women when they were brought in, so they asked family members for information they could use to determine identity. Based on that, they assigned names to bodies. Later, the medical examiner looked at dental records and realized they’d made a mistake.

“One family grieves, another rejoices after tragic identity mix-up” [CNN]


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  1. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    Reminds me of that House episode….

    • energynotsaved says:

      When I heard about this case, my first thought was “that sounds just like that House episode!”

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      I remember that episode. IIRC, it was lupus.

      • coren says:

        It’s never lupus!

        (I think it had something to do with the victim having had an abortion in the past, or at least that figured into how they discovered they had the wrong person)

    • Anathema777 says:

      And that episode was based on a true story, so this kind of thing has happened before.

    • Smashville says:

      Oh yeah! The one where he guessed the disease wrong three times before getting it right. I think he was also addicted to vicodin in that episode.

  2. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Reminds me of an episode of CSI:NY.

  3. Goldensummer says:

    This has happened before and it will likely happen again. People in accidents don’t look like the people in accidents on TV. They’re bruised, swollen, often have multiple fractures of the face and are wrapped in bandages often covering up identifying markers. This family sat in vigil at the wrong bed for 5 weeks after their daughter had been buried under the wrong name. Same height, weight, and hair color and a family friend had identified the girls. Horrible things happen but I don’t think that this is something that we should be outraged about. Its an honest mistake and I’m certain everyone on the hospitals staff who was involved is mortified and upset.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I agree with everything you said except how the staff is feeling. I have to believe the staff is not mortified or upset, but instead is somewhat desensitized to the situation. You couldn’t function in the job is mis-identifying a body caused you such grief. What would happen when a patient died in your care? You’d go off your rocker.

      • Gish says:

        Disagree. People can easily adapt to having to provide unwelcome information to people without being desensitized to the embarrassment and frustration of misinforming those same people and having to correct that information.

        Desensitization to something that is your job does not mean you are immune to embarrassment and the resultant blame.

      • coren says:

        I don’t know – what you’re comparing is someone’s day to day duties with a screw up that is fairly uncommon and also pretty emotionally damaging.

    • Gramin says:

      Agreed. It was a mistake, an awful mistake, but a mistake none the less.

      • JMILLER says:

        I guess it is awful mistake if you thought your child was still alive. Those that think their daughter was dead think it was a wonderful mistake. One persons pain is anothers gain.

    • Coalpepper says:

      Plus its often harder to identify women, since unlike men who carry a wallet with their id in their pocket, for a woman its usually in her purse, which likely won’t be sitting next to her after an accident.

      • jefeloco says:

        Plus the fact that most women are barefoot, shoes help too. One easy identifier though is the location of the victim, if they were in a kitchen they were most likely the woman belonging the the man of the house.

        /sarcasm. tee hee!

    • coffeeculture says:

      I agree with you also, I’m sure the staff made a good faith effort at identifying the victims. Their first priority was giving them the best medical care they could get, and given the circumstances, I think they did the best they could. Sad story for everyone involved (family, victims, AND medical staff).

    • common_sense84 says:

      Actually no one at the hospital is upset at themselves. They may actually be upset at the families who got the IDs wrong.

      The people in the hospital have never seen the girls before, they are the last people to blame for a bad ID.

  4. NarcolepticGirl says:

    How does this stuff get in the news?
    Did someone call the news about this mistake?

    Anyway, these kind of mistakes happen… and man, that’s gotta suck for the family of the actual deceased woman.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      People talk. Police like to leak stuff to the press. That or the press pays close attention to the police blotters/reports. Probably both.

      • NarcolepticGirl says:

        Interesting point.

        Sometimes I just don’t see how a lot of things make the news – like those talking toys that say bad words… maybe the kind of news comes out of small towns or something.

        • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

          Because people get outraged, tell their friends, someone directs them to a group that likes to get their name in the news, and they have contacts at the news stations.

  5. nbs2 says:

    I suppose if you are looking for a reason to justify a tattoo, this better than most. Of course, just make sure you don’t get the Chinese characters, bicep tribal, hipster UPC code on the neck, or generic tramp stamp.

    Seriously though, I feel bad for both the families and the hospital. The former for obvious reasons, the latter because of how earth shattering it must be to have to tell a family what happened – especially in a case like this where it sounds like the hospital wasn’t negligent. I hope we don’t hear about a lawsuit coming out of this.

    I ramble.

    • aloria says:

      Having a tattoo has definitely made it easier for people to spot me. There are a lot of short, skinny girls with long dark hair in NYC, but much fewer with a flock of bird silhouettes covering her upper arm and shoulder.

    • Gish says:

      Yes Officer. My Grandmother does have a lower back tattoo that reads Juicy bordered by hummingbirds and roses. Has something happened to Nana?

  6. Griking says:

    If they can’t identify the body without dental records then it’s never going to be good news.

  7. Dallas_shopper says:

    When you have two very similar-looking patients with severe trauma in the same car it’s very easy for even family members to misidentify them.

    This is a tragic mistake but not a malicious one. Nobody MEANT to make this mistake.

    • common_sense84 says:

      None of the medical people made a mistake. The ones who didn’t mean to make this mistake, but made it are the family members and friends who ID’ed them incorrectly.

      The medical people have never seen these people before, they cannot ID them.

  8. areaman says:

    I would have pulled out a phone or wallet from the pockets of the people in the car.

    “Hello this is Dr. Smith who’s number am I calling you from?”

    Or did all of the wallets and cell phones get all mixed up in the crash as well?

    This sounds about Arizona.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Women aren’t generally known for having stuff like phones and wallets/purses in their pockets.

    • Master Medic: Now with more Haldol says:

      A roll over accident will string the contents far and wide. I have been on some that have even left the occupant naked (although I suspect they were ‘commando’ already).

      What we don;t know is the injury that killed the one passenger. If it was massive head trauma then the Medical Examiner on scene would be hard pressed to make a positive ID, let alone if they collected the DLs the 2 pictured girls look pretty similar.

      But I can tell you from first hand experience, accident victim misidentification happens all the time. The only difference here is time frame and that in most cases the people don;t die.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        Do things like men’s watches or steel/non-gold necklaces or rings usually stay on and help in IDing? I ask because I wear a Ti band, a ball steel necklace, and a G-Shock watch. I’m also missing my front teeth and have an uniquely shaped big toenail from a past operation, so I think those might help as well.

        • common_sense84 says:

          None of that will help the EMT on the scene or the people at the hospital. It hopefully would help your family or friends ID you. They aren’t going to pull out dental records unless there is a reason so suspect the ID is wrong. Thus a family telling the staff that they are certain it is their daughter, means no dental test.

        • Master Medic: Now with more Haldol says:

          You want absolute positive identification, tattoo your full name, SS# and if possible passport # on top both of your feet.

          Oddly enough, feet, for what ever reason, survive all kinds of things that leave the rest of you ground beef.

          Unique tattoos, usually those with names and/or dates will allow the Police/Medical Examiner a better opportunity to positively identify you to your family who knows of said marks later on.

  9. SabreDC says:

    Wouldn’t it be weird if they were twins separated at birth?

  10. ellmar says:
    • gparlett says:

      Good point, normally when I’m rushed to the emergency room with life threatening injuries I like to get an abortion as well. You know I’m already at the hospital and all, much more convenient to get it all taken care of in one trip.

      • ellmar says:

        Both incidents happened at St. Joe’s…

      • coren says:

        From the linked article

        “In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy,” Pfister said.

        And the person who approved said treatment was also fired/demoted/excommunicated. Considering it happened at the same hospital, somewhat relevant.

    • Kibit says:

      I do not understand the Catholic Church.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I don’t either, and I was raised in it.

        Seems as if a condition compromising oxygen and blood flow in the mother might have seriously damaged the embryo anyway, which would certainly fit the directive.

  11. ArizonaGeek says:

    According to two local news stations, both families were at the hospital for a week and couldn’t tell the difference. Even in pictures before the accident they could pass for sisters. If the families couldn’t tell the difference I am not sure how complete strangers would be able to do it.

  12. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    “Your friend with the knife wound is dead”

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      hehehe. That was a great movie, gosh I haven’t seen it in years. XD

  13. MarvinMar says:

    Also, in Arizona, In Arizona once you get your drivers license, it does not expire until you are 65.
    If you got your license at 16 or 18 or even 20, and had an accident like this when you were 50…..They would be looking around the desert for the dead teenager.

    • Staceyotk says:

      In Arizona, you are required to renew your photo every 12 years.

      • Sumtron5000 says:

        My friend used to live in AZ and when she told me they renew their licenses every 50 years, I always wondered if senior citizens walk around in AZ with pictures on their licenses of teenagers. Thank you for explaining that!

  14. common_sense84 says:

    The hospital confused nothing. The families are the ones who confused it.

    The EMTs don’t know the girls. All they can do is take the loose purses and attempt to match the person to the ID. The hospital does no matching.

    The only people to blame are women in general who have loose purses rather than wallets in their pockets or the families that cannot identify their own kid.