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One white, one black: Wrong body cremated

The wrong body was cremated after an unfortunate mix-up at a hospice facility in Denver. KUSA-TV's Kyle Clark reports.

The grief of two Colorado families was compounded when the bodies of their loved ones got switched, resulting in the wrong patient getting cremated, a Denver investigation has discovered. The deceased men, one who was white and the other who was black, were wearing identification wristbands at the time of the mix-up.

Robert Mitchell, of Denver, and Perry Heath, of Aurora, Colo., died at The Denver Hospice on Nov. 10, according to an investigation by Denver's 9News.com. The families began their respective funeral preparations; unbeknownst to them, many Colorado funeral homes outsource their work, and their late family members were about to go through a complex maze of third-party providers.

Perry Heath was supposed to be cremated. His family arranged for a cremation through 5280 Cremation and Funeral Services of Aurora, according to 9News. Despite its name, 5280 Cremation does not perform cremations, and outsourced the work to a third-party provider.

That same day, reported 9News, Robert Mitchell's family made arrangements for his burial. They hired Taylor Funeral and Cremation Services, also of Aurora, to handle his viewing, and funeral. Taylor doesn't have a mortuary, though, so they hired a transport company to pick up Mitchell's body and take it to a separate embalming company.

The outsourced transport workers arrived at The Denver Hospice on Nov. 10 for Mitchell and Heath as scheduled, but that's when things went wrong.

According to 9News, Metropolitan Mortuary Services took Heath's body, slapping a band on his wrist with Mitchell's name on it next to one that bore his real name. And SI Funeral Services removed Mitchell's body from the hospice.

The error became evident when Taylor Funeral Home received Heath's body a few days before what was supposed to be Mitchell's viewing and funeral. Mitchell is black, and this white body clearly wasn't his. Meantime, Mitchell had been cremated by another company.

Both transport contractors blamed The Denver Hospice. They told 9News they were directed to the bodies by staff members.

New processes put into place
The Denver Hospice said it will now require nurses, not other staff, to accompany transport contractors to patients' rooms.

"We're sorry that this happened and we've put in new processes, training procedures and oversight to make sure nothing like this happens again. And we ask people to trust that we are taking very good care of their loved ones," Janelle McCallum,  chief clinical officer at The Denver Hospice, told 9News. "The care and concern that we show when the person is in our care, and the precision that we use when they're there, has to also be shown as they're leaving."

A nurse will check each patient's ID wristband before signing paperwork allowing the body to be removed, she added.

Due to the mix-up, reported 9News, Mitchell was cremated and buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery under Heath's name. He has since been disinterred.

"The [hospice] should have checked as well as the people who picked up these bodies," Marcus Mitchell, Robert Mitchell's son, told 9News.

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