ST. PAUL - The family of a stillborn baby discarded in Regions Hospital's dirty laundry after staff promised to cremate the remains is suing the medical institution.
The mother of the child, Esmeralda Hernandez, filed a lawsuit against the St. Paul hospital in Ramsey County District Court earlier this month along with several of her family members.
The civil suit accuses Regions of reckless interference with a dead body. The family is seeking damages "far in excess of $50,000" for their ongoing pain related to the incident, according to legal documents.
The family's attorney, Chris Messerly, did not respond to a request for comment on the case. The family also could not be reached.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Oct. 9, Regions Hospital apologized for what happened back in 2013.
"We want to say again that we are truly sorry for our mistake," the statement read. "We immediately reached out to the family in 2013 to apologize and to try and help ease their loss. We have continued to work with their lawyer - always open to a reasonable resolution."
Hernandez went into early labor in April of 2013 when her son was just 22 weeks in utero, the suit says. At 3:09 p.m. April 3, she delivered her stillborn baby at Regions Hospital and named him "Jose."
Devastated, she kept him in her room overnight as she and her family mourned his death.
Out of respect for his body, Hernandez declined an autopsy and accepted hospital staff's offer when they said they could cremate her baby boy in "a respectful and dignified manner," the suit says.
Nearly two weeks later, on April 16, 2013, an anonymous tipster informed Red Wing police that workers at Crothall Laundry Services there had found the body of a baby inside a dirty laundry bag sent to the facility for cleaning from Regions.
The child's diaper was reportedly still on, as was his identification bracelet.
Laundry workers proceeded to "gawk at Baby Jose, took photos of him, and sent pictures into cyberspace," the suit said.
The story was reported by the media and eventually reached the Hernandez family, who "hoped and prayed that the discarded baby was not their Baby Jose," according to the civil complaint.
Regions Hospital was notified about what had happened from Crothall Laundry staff, who later relayed to police that the hospital had instructed them to reach out to the hospital directly when "something like this shows up in the linens," the suit said.
The manager told the investigating detective that it's not uncommon for staff at the laundry facility "to find medical waste in the linens from Regions, which may consist of tissue, blood, and on occasion, an appendage," legal documents say.
When the baby was found, Regions reportedly sent two staff members to retrieve his body. They did not inform police, the suit said.
While hospital staff "knew that the baby was Baby Jose, (they) decided not to tell Baby Jose's family about what they had done," according to the complaint.
Regions staff acknowledged it was him, after the family reached out to the hospital to ask if the child was Baby Jose, on the day after the media reported the story, legal documents say.
A second newborn's remains were also discarded in Regions' dirty laundry around the same time. That baby was born April 7, 2013. His remains were never found.
Regions staff reported at the time that they suspected the child was sent to Crothall Laundry Services in the same linen container as Baby Jose's remains.
Nothing like it has happened since, the hospital reported in its statement.
"We ... took immediate steps to ensure this would not happen again," the statement read. "The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reviewed and approved our updated process in 2014. We continue to review these processes on an ongoing basis."
The hospital has not yet filed an answer to the suit but plans to do so, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Hernandez now lives in Texas. She was living in St. Paul when she delivered her baby.