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Originally Posted At: http://www.oaklandtribune.com/Stories/0,1413,82~1726~2160551,00.html
 

Oakland Tribune
 

Kaiser not forthcoming over mix-up at morgue 
Hospital now says it tried to call priest's family on day of his death rather than three days after. 
By John Geluardi and Rebecca Vesely
CORRESPONDENT AND STAFF WRITER 
 

Thursday, May 20, 2004 - OAKLAND -- Kaiser Permanente Medical Center-Oakland is investigating how an Episcopal priest's body was misidentified last week, and changes in its morgue's record-keeping have already been instituted, hospital officials said Wednesday. 

However, Kaiser officials are still declining to answer mounting questions from family members as to how Thomas Douglas "Dewey" Schwartzenburg's body was mistaken for that of an elderly Fruitvale woman and released to a mortuary, which cremated the body.

Kaiser representative P.J. Ballard said the 59-year-old Schwartzenburg drove himself to the Oakland hospital's emergency room early May 11 and died from a heart attack shortly after. But information about what happened after Schwartzenburg died is sketchy. 

"Our records indicate that Mr. Schwartzenburg died around 1:08 p.m. and the attending physician made two calls to family members or friends and then notified the coroner's office of his death," Ballard said. 

But her statement contradicts an earlier Kaiser statement that hospital staff tried to notify Schwartzenburg's family on Friday, three days after his death. 

In addition, the Alameda County Coroner's Office has no record of Kaiser reporting Schwartzenburg's death on the morning of May 11 or anytime after that. Also no one has completed paperwork with the Alameda County Department of Health necessary to generate a death certificate, said an agency spokesman. 

Nor did Schwartzenburg's family or friends, who had reported him missing to police May 12, say they received any notification of his whereabouts until May 15 when Oakland police, who said they were frustrated with uncooperative Kaiser personal, inspected the hospital's morgue and discovered there was an identification problem. 

By that time, police and family members suspect, Schwartzenburg's body had been cremated two days before by funeral directors who thought his body, contained in a sealed white plastic body bag, was the elderly woman's. Her family has asked that her name not be released. 

Furthermore, police say, it has not been confirmed the body cremated on Friday was Schwartzenburg's. 

In Tuesday's newspaper story about the mixup, information that Schwartzenburg's body was mistagged with the woman's name was wrongly attributed to Oakland police. That information came from the removal service which picked up the body at the Kaiser morgue. 

Family members of both Schwartzenburg and the woman said the mixup is disturbing, and added that Kaiser has made the situation worse by not answering their questions. 

"We are very upset," said Schwartzenburg's niece Joan Prather. "The family, his friends, his parishioners, everyone wants to get to the bottom of this." 

The woman's relatives said they are also upset because they thought the great-grandmother had been cremated Friday, only to learn her body was still in Kaiser's morgue the following Monday. Once the mistake was discovered, her body was immediately cremated according to her wishes. 

"My sister is very distraught over our mother's death and this has made it much worse," said Linda Coluga, the woman's daughter. "I don't understand what happened at Kaiser and I feel like my mother's dignity has been violated. We have lots of questions creeping up." 

Prather said her uncle's mistaken cremation is distressing because he had written out specific final wishes involving Episcopal Church protocols for a priest of his stature. 

"Dewey wanted to be buried in his (priest) robes," she said. "He had the names of his pallbearers. Nothing was left to chance." 

He was a priest at San Francisco's All Saint's Episcopal Church and editor of the Coastal Conservancy's Coast and Ocean magazine. 
 
 

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