Hospital loses patient's necklace, team digs through 15 tons of waste to find it

As Samantha LaRochelle was discharged from St. Luke's Hospital in Phillipsburg, N.J., she realized one small but beloved item was unaccounted for — her dual-pendant necklace. Thus began a communitywide search effort that ended, happily and days later, in a waste management plant.

St. Luke's staff members removed Ms. LaRochelle's necklace and t-shirt Saturday night after she arrived at the hospital unconscious due to a medical condition, according to Lehigh Valley Live.

She was released a few hours later. It was in the discharge process when she realized her family nor staff could account for her jewelry.

On Monday night, to trace the necklace's whereabouts, Phillipsburg Police Officer Steven Fielding watched hospital surveillance footage for the nine hours Ms. LaRochelle was hospitalized. The film showed the necklace was placed in a cup that was eventually thrown in the trash, along with her t-shirt.

Ms. LaRochelle returned to the hospital Monday night armed with information from Mr. Fielding, inquiring about the hospital's waste management services. She took down contact information for Marsha James, who heads up the Covanta waste-to-energy disposal site where St. Luke's sends its trash.

By Wednesday morning, Ms. LaRochelle was following a compactor truck full of St. Luke's hospital garbage as it headed for the incinerator.

Covanta refused to let Ms. LaRochelle dig through bags of trash herself. Instead, a group of Covanta employees took up pitchforks and other tools to parse through 15 tons of hospital trash. It took two hours before Steve Acierno found Ms. LaRochelle's t-shirt, the cup from her hospital room and — sure enough — her necklace. She told Lehigh Valley Live the discovery nearly made her drop to her knees crying.

St. Luke's released the following statement about how the necklace was handled during Ms. LaRochelle's stay:

"St. Luke's is pleased that the patient retrieved her necklace with the assistance of the hospital's staff and others. We have processes in place to ensure the safekeeping of our patients' belongings. In this case, we regret that during the patient's visit we inadvertently misplaced her necklace. We are reviewing our processes and will learn from this experience to ensure something like this does not happen again."

Overall, the Covanta team is now three-for-three on finding individuals' missing belongings in about the last six months.

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