When a loved one passes away it can be an extremely difficult time as people struggle to cope with their grief, but one great-grandmother has opened up on the extra heartache and anger she was forced to endure after a horror experience with a hospital mortuary.
Val Hathaway was devastated when her 70-year-old mother Amanda passed away following a stroke in 1984, having initially been admitted to Lidcombe Hospital – which no longer exists – for two weeks of respite care to allow her father a break. But it was what came after her mother’s passing that took the biggest emotional toll on mother-of-six Val.
The 72-year-old from western Sydney, NSW, claimed she was invited, along with her sister June, to see her mother lying in rest in the hospital mortuary just a few days after she had passed away in October 1984.
“They asked me do you want to come and get mum’s belongings from the hospital,” she told Starts at 60. “So I went out there with my middle sister [and] the nurse that knew us said, ‘Do you want to say goodbye to your mum before you go, she’s down in the mortuary’.”
After making sure it was okay and being pointed in the right direction by a ward sister, Val and June found themselves at the door of the mortuary but the former social worker said she wasn’t prepared for what came next.
“We knocked on the door and this man came to the door, he had an apron on full of blood all down the front of him,” she said. “He opened the door up and I said ‘Oh hello we’re here to see our mother’, he asked what her name was and told us to wait a moment. He walked over and there’s like a row of refrigerators, she was down the bottom.
“He opened the door, pulled her out, she slid out and was covered in plastic. He was trying to pull it off her face and said: ‘Oh it’s stuck to her face, I can’t get it off’.
The vision of the man trying to tug the plastic from her mother’s face was too much for Val’s sister who passed from the sight of it and fell to the floor.
“I thought this is absolutely disgraceful to treat our mother like this. I thought ‘this is run by the damn government!’ What a disgrace it was. We complained about it but of course nothing ever happened.”
Val, who is also grandmother to 12 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren, said she complained about the horrendous ordeal to senior staff at the hospital but claims nothing was done and no action was taken against any members of staff.
Discussing the hospital’s reaction to her complaint, she said: “Nothing was ever heard about it. It was like it never happened.”
She also revealed that her mother’s face was left visibly marked from the plastic that had become stuck to her face whilst her body was being cared for in the mortuary.
“We had an open coffin at mum’s funeral and I noticed she had red marks all up her face and I’d say that’s where the plastic had been stuck.
“It made it even worse. I mean, tugging at the plastic saying: ‘Goodness me it’s stuck’. I suppose they’re normalised to dead people.”
A NSW Health spokesperson told Starts at 60 there are no records of the alleged incident or of Val’s complaint and that because management of the hospital changed several times over the years it is unclear if a report on the alleged incident was ever made.
“NSW Health takes the abuse of the elderly very seriously and has developed policies to identify and respond to abuse in all forms,” the spokesperson said. “The NSW Health Policy Directive on identifying and responding to older people has been developed to raise awareness of abuse of older people across the health system and outline the role of NSW Health organisations in supporting staff to identify and respond to abuse of older people.”
They added all government health workers have a responsibility to identify any abuse of older people and then to respond appropriately, in light of the recently announced royal commission which will be inquiring into cases of abuse of the elderly.