TelephoneTwo days after my mother died, I had a very long phone call with a nurse paralegal named Charlene Sorensen from the law firm of Warner & Warner.

She told me that I needed to get in touch with Dr. Peele regarding the autopsy. She said the smartest thing to do would be to send a letter via certified mail to him. Charlene told me I should (a) ask when he will sign the death certificate, (b) note that according to what I was told by the hospital, she died from cardiac arrest but had no previous heart problems so I need to know the “contributing cause”, and (c) keep the letter short, sweet, and non-threatening.

Charlene said, “There is a piece of this puzzle missing,” and that the first step was to get the death certificate signed. She said that the second step would revolve around the fact that I have the right to question the cause of my mother’s death. “There’s something that is not right,” she said.

She told me that the doctor 1 or the state’s attorney needs to request an autopsy. 2

She also said I should call the Department of Health in Tallahassee and (a) file a complaint against Coastal Rehab because of the fractured pelvis she suffered while there 3, (b) file a claim against Woodland Terrace because of their refusal to respect my wishes regarding the administration of Risperdal in the days leading up to her death, and (c) file a claim against every doctor that has seen my mother for the last nine months. Charlene said that the Department of Health would then make an unscheduled visit to each of the facilities and could revoke their licenses if they weren’t doing a good job of record-keeping.

Charlene gave me two numbers for the AHCA — the Agency for Health Care Administration. She said I could contact them at (888) 419-3456 or (877) 425-8862, and that she was giving me both numbers because one of the numbers usually doesn’t work. She said they are the ones who oversee nursing homes, hospitals, physicians, and anyone with a medical license in the state of Florida.

Charlene guessed that because my mom was not yet receiving Medicaid and had no health insurance, there were no health insurance benefits to cover any doctor’s fees, which is why nobody wants to perform an autopsy. She said that in the state of Florida, the laws do not protect the patient. She said that, “doctors and hospitals are killing people all the time, but we can’t get the citizens to change the laws,” because every election season the medical lobbies run ads on television and scare “the little old ladies” into thinking that if they don’t vote to protect the doctors, they’ll all leave the state and then nobody will be here to take care of them in their old age.

If I wasn’t already more sad than I think I’ve ever been in my entire life, it would have been a depressing call.

1 According to the medical examiner, the doctor (or anyone else, I suppose) can request an autopsy but there is no way to compel the medical examiner to actually perform one.
2 This was the first time anyone mentioned the state’s attorney’s office to me.
3 She actually fractured her pelvis while she was a resident at Grace Manor Port Orange and not at Coastal Rehab.