Newark woman dies mysteriously in East Orange hospital, family finds out 2 weeks later

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on August 05, 2014

Shandell Brown outside her home with the viewing card from the funeral of her sister Serena Brown. Serena checked into East Orange Hospital for pain on June 28. She died two days later on June 30th, but her family wasn't told until July 14. The family went to the hospital repeatedly to find out about her, but was told that she wasn't a patient. When they pressed the issue, they were told she was discharged. None of that was true. She was in the hospital morgue the whole time.


EAST ORANGE — Serena Brown checked into East Orange General Hospital, where she has always gone for health care.

And when she was discharged, she routinely called one of her sisters, Shandell Brown or Theresa Williams, to come get her, and they would go home to the three-family house they shared in Newark.

It should have been no different on June 28, when Serena was admitted.

Shandell said Serena called the next day, but it wasn’t to be picked up.

She said her sister complained of stomach pains and wanted to know if Shandell could bring Tylenol because the hospital’s pain medication wasn’t working.

Shandell, a wound-care specialist at a Newark hospital, said she couldn’t get there that day, and tried — with no luck — to get someone at the hospital to see about her sister. She went there the next day, June 30, Tylenol in hand, thinking her sister had received something to feel better.

But her 48-year-old sister was nowhere to be found.

Shandell said that when she asked at the front desk for her sister’s room number, "they told me they didn’t have a Serena Brown listed."

Confused and clueless, Shandell went home. Maybe Serena checked out, she thought, though that seemed unlikely. She called area hospitals, thinking East Orange General probably didn’t register her sister properly.

Serena’s 17-year-old daughter, Najwa Williams, thought the same thing. She went to the hospital the next day, July 1, thinking there had to be a mistake and that she would see her mother.

"They said that she wasn’t there, that she was discharged,’’ Najwa said.

The girl didn’t know what to think. Neither did her brother, James Darden, 20, who received the same answer when he called on July 2.

Najwa couldn’t sleep, and asked her aunt to find her mother.

Shandell returned to the hospital on July 3, demanding to see her sister, telling the woman at the front desk that Serena must be at this hospital.

"She called me from here,’’ she said. "I talked to her."

Shandell retrieved the hospital’s phone number on her cellphone and showed it to the woman, who recognized the digits as having been dialed on the second floor. After calling up to the second floor, the woman told Shandell that Serena had been discharged on June 27.

Clearly, that was impossible, since Serena had checked in on June 28.

"Now I’m thinking she must have been discharged,’’ Shandell said. "I don’t know."

She again called other hospitals in the area. Shandell said her sister, diagnosed as schizophrenic, always stayed in touch if she was away from home for a few days. Maybe she was with her new boyfriend, or some girlfriends, but surely she would call to say where she had gone.

The days passed, including July 4, which was Shandell’s birthday.

"She would never miss my birthday,’’ Shandell said.

One week became two and still no Serena. Friends came by asking for their buddy, whom everybody called "Dee-Dee or "Deema," a childhood nickname.

"Something is not right,’’ Shandell said.

"This is not like her,’’ said Williams, the other sister.

They were about to file a missing persons report when Shandell’s phone rang on July 14.

"Here she goes,’’ Shandell said, confident Serena was finally calling.

But it wasn’t her, and it wasn’t the hospital administration or Serena’s doctor.

It was the hospital morgue. Shandell said a woman told her she would have Serena’s doctor call shortly. When the physician couldn’t be reached, the next sentence hit Shandell like a ton of bricks: "I’m sorry to inform you that your sister died."


Shandell had been calling and calling, only to find out two weeks later that her sister had died on June 30, the same day she was at the hospital’s front desk looking for her.

"My sister sat there 14 days and nobody got in touch with me," Shandell said. "She died alone and was housed in the morgue like she doesn’t have any family."

Shandell said she rushed to the hospital, where he she spoke to her sisters’ doctor, Robert Clarke, of East Orange.

Clarke told Shandell that he had left a message on her phone the day her sister died — shortly after midnight on the morning of June 30 — to contact his office or the hospital.

But Shandell said her phone did not register a missed call from either him or the hospital.

The family buried Serena on July 22 without knowing how she died.

The hospital is trying to find out what happened and then plans to meet with the family, a spokeswoman said.

"We are currently investigating the timing of the family’s notification of the passing of their loved one,’’ the spokeswoman, Suzette Robinson, said. "It is the practice of East Orange General Hospital to provide timely notification of death to the family of the deceased patient. We will keep the family informed of our investigation."

Shandell wants answers. Hopefully she’ll get them without having to wait another 14 days.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment