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She was declared dead, but the funeral home found her breathing

A woman was pronounced dead at the Water's Edge Rehab and Nursing Center in Port Jefferson, N.Y. — but hours later, workers at a funeral home discovered she was alive and breathing.
Google Maps/Screenshot by NPR
A woman was pronounced dead at the Water's Edge Rehab and Nursing Center in Port Jefferson, N.Y. — but hours later, workers at a funeral home discovered she was alive and breathing.

Workers at a nursing home on Long Island, N.Y., pronounced an 82-year-old woman dead on Saturday — but nearly three hours later, staff at a funeral home discovered the woman was still alive and breathing.

State officials say they're looking into how the nursing home, the Water's Edge Rehab and Nursing Center in Port Jefferson, handled the incident.

"This is an awful situation that has caused unnecessary trauma for the impacted resident and her loved ones," a spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James told NPR.

Suffolk County Police say the woman was pronounced dead at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday. A little more than two hours later, she was transported to the O.B. Davis Funeral Homes in Miller Place, just east of Port Jefferson. All went according to routine — but then the woman was discovered breathing at 2:09 p.m. She was taken to a local hospital.

"We do not have info on her condition," the police department said on Tuesday, responding to NPR's request for an update. The agency didn't release the woman's name or any details about whether she has family in the area.

News of the critical error emerged weeks after the Water's Edge center was named one of the best nursing homes in the country by U.S. News and World Report. Neither the facility nor its parent network, CareRite Centers, responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Now Suffolk police detectives are investigating the nursing home — and so is the New York State Department of Health, which launched its own inquiry after learning of the incident, a health department representative told NPR.

The disturbing mix-up comes one month after a 66-year-old woman who lived at an Alzheimer's care facility in Iowa was pronounced dead, only to shock funeral home employees who unzipped her body bag some 45 minutes later, to find a woman who was gasping for air.

In that Iowa case, the facility was hit with a $10,000 fine.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.