Identity mix-up at PeaceHealth hospital leads to wrong family's end-of-life decisions

In a case of mistaken identity, an employee of PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center asked the wrong family to make end-of-life decisions for a patient on life support at the Vancouver, Wash.-based facility in 2021, NBC affiliate KGW reported Feb. 21.

The medical team overseeing care for the patient contacted Debbie Danielson in the middle of the night, saying her brother, 60-year-old Michael Beehler's condition, had taken a turn after a choking incident. Her brother was doing so poorly they told her he was "basically brain-dead," she recounted to KGW. After learning this, she told them to take him off of life support.

About a week later, Ms. Danielson's family received a phone call — from Mr. Beehler. He was alive. It was only then they discovered there had been a tragic mistake. 

The patient was not Ms. Danielson's brother. Somehow, after being transported to the hospital by EMS, the patient, David Wells, was incorrectly identified as his roommate, Mr. Beehler. 

"We made life-ending decisions for a person we don't even know," Gary Danielson, the husband of Ms. Danielson, told KGW.

The family contacted the non-emergency line at the police department to inform them of the situation. Then, Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office used fingerprints to confirm the identity of the deceased. 

"I am a little uncertain on how to proceed with this unfortunate mix-up," Michelle Rodrigue, a death investigator, wrote at the time, according to KGW.

While certain adverse events and medical errors can be investigated by the state, the events that led to this case of mistaken identity at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center likely would not qualify as such, KGW reported. 

It is unclear how an investigation into the matter will proceed at this time.

A PeaceHealth spokesperson told Becker's there are patient identification protocols in place that require a form of identification or family member identification. If a patient enters the emergency department without an identity, they are given a placeholder name until identity is confirmed.

"As a community of caregivers devoted to healing, we extend our sincerest sympathy to the families impacted in this situation that has surfaced two and a half years later. Patient safety and privacy is our utmost priority, and together we will carry on our Mission of caring for our community…" the PeaceHealth spokesperson told Becker's. "This situation also highlights the importance of continued collaboration in working with multiple community agencies involved in healthcare, including EMS and the Medical Examiner's Office, which PeaceHealth and our community partners are committed to doing."

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