The family of an 88-year-old New Jersey nursing home patient was kept in the dark about his coronavirus death — and then discovered he’d already been buried by Googling his name, according to a new report.
Thomas E. Comer died on April 13 at Bayshore Health Care Center in Holmdel — but no one contacted his loved ones to tell them he’d died, the relatives told NJ.com.
Staff initially told his granddaughter, Brianna Comer, they “could not find him” when she called the facility to check on him.
“We had not heard anything. We knew they were overwhelmed, but I had this false sense nothing would ever happen to him,” Brianna told NJ.com.
The staffer ultimately told her he had died.
“I went, ‘What? When did he die?’” the shocked granddaughter revealed. But the staffer replied, “Oh, I can’t tell you that. You’re not on the list.”
After Googling her granddad’s name, she discovered he had been sent to Laurel Funeral Home in West Keansburg.
“We were told by the funeral home that he was already buried, against his wishes of being cremated,” Brianna said of the added insult.
It was not clear how long after the funeral they discovered the heartbreaking news.
The nursing home told NJ.com it was only permitted to alert his son, David Comer, and it had an outdated number for him, despite the family insisting they repeatedly alerted staff to changes in contact information.
“Somebody could have told me something,” David, a retired Passaic County sheriff’s officer, told the site. “He was my dad.”
“I understand what’s going on,” he said of the crisis in the state’s nursing homes, which NJ.com says has killed more than 6,200 people in an outbreak that has left 1 in 12 residents dead.
“But they couldn’t spare me five minutes?”
His granddaughter said they’d been regular visitors to the home after Comer — a proud Irishman who had served in the UK’s Royal Air Force — moved there four years ago while suffering from dementia.
“We visited frequently, always bringing a small black coffee, jelly donuts and occasionally a bottle of Guinness,” she said of the man who moved to the US with his family in 1958.
“There was no reason for anyone in the facility to assume he was not wanted or loved.”
Thomas was under state guardianship because of financial strains.
“Due to overwhelming costs of nursing homes, we sought help from the state by making him a ward of the state with a social worker to place him in a home where he thought he would be safe and monitored,” Brianna said.
Hackensack Meridian Health, which operates Bayshore Health Care, sent “thoughts and prayers” to the Comers.
“This is undoubtedly a sad situation and it’s understandable the process would be questioned,” the company said in a statement to NJ.com.
Only a named next of kin could be contacted, the statement said, and “privacy laws prohibit the sharing of health protected information unless designated otherwise.”
Thomas is survived by his sons John and David, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Eileen, and son Steven.
He is buried at Bay View Cemetery in Leonardo — but his family still haven’t paid their final respects.
“No one’s allowed to visit,” David said about the coronavirus restrictions. “They said you have to wait.”