Michigan Medics’ Licenses Suspended By State Following Mistaken Death Pronouncement

The licenses of two Michigan paramedics have been suspended by the state Department of Health and Human Services pending an investigation into how a patient was declared dead,  released to a funeral home, and found to be alive hours later by funeral home staff preparing to embalm her. The medics and two EMTs, all members of the Southfield Fire Department, have also been placed on paid leave while the department conducts its own investigation.

The Southfield Fire Department released a statement explaining the events as follows:

  • At 7:34 a.m. on August 23, 2020, Southfield Fire Department paramedics arrived at a home in Southfield on a call for an unresponsive female.
  • When paramedics arrived, they found a 20-year-old who was not breathing.
  • The paramedics performed CPR and other life reviving methods for 30 minutes.
  • Given medical readings and the condition of the patient, it was determined at that time that she did not have signs of life.
  • Because there was no indication of foul play, as per standard operating procedure, the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office was contacted and given the medical data.
  • The patient was again determined to have expired and the body was released directly to the family to make arrangements with a funeral home of their choosing.
  • In an effort to respect the privacy of her family, the Southfield Fire Department is not currently releasing personal information on the patient.

The James H. Cole Home for Funerals explained their version in the following statement.

  • After receiving clearance from the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office she was transported to our funeral home.
  • Upon her arrival at the funeral home, our staff confirmed she was breathing and called EMS.

The patient, a 20-year-old with cerebral palsy, remains hospitalized in critical condition, according to The Detroit News. The News identified the four members of Southfield Fire as a lieutenant-paramedic with 18 years of experience, a paramedic with 7 years’ experience, an EMT with two years’ experience and an EMT with six months of experience.

Fire Chief Johnny Menifee was quoted by MichiganLive as saying about his personnel:  “They feel terrible. They can’t imagine how this possibly had happened.”

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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