‘It’s like a second death’: Mother says hospital cremated baby’s remains without permission

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Ja’lena Waite was born four months premature and died April 21, weighing less than 2 pounds. Her mother Jessica Palmer remembered doctors and nurses at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora kindly telling her she didn’t have to make any fast decisions about her daughter’s remains.

“Everybody told me, ‘Take your time, take your time. We’re here for you — she’s safe.’ Everyone that I talked to told me that,” said Palmer. 

Ten days after Palmer and her husband, Andre Waite, lost Ja’lena, they moved into a new house and said finances were tight, so they put off making a decision about cremating their daughter.

The University of Colorado Hospital offers cremations as “a no-cost option,” according to a brochure given to Palmer, but it states, “You will not be able to obtain any ashes from the cremation” if the hospital does it for free.

“We kept letting the hospital know that, ‘No, we wanted to lay her to rest.’ They’re like, ‘That’s perfectly fine. Take as long as you need to, whatever you need to do, we are here,'” said Palmer.

She said no one at the hospital mentioned the hospital has a policy to cremate remains after 30 days if no decision is made.

On June 17, Palmer told the hospital she was ready to claim her daughter’s remains, only to be told it was too late.

“She tells us,  ‘I’m so sorry.’ I’m like, ‘You’re so sorry? What?’ She said, ‘They’ve already cremated Ja’lena. They’ve spread her ashes over the Rocky Mountains or something,’ she said,” according to Palmer.

An email from the hospital’s perinatal loss coordinator to Palmer reads in part, “I thought things were on hold indefinitely and if information was needed sooner Decedent Affairs would call you or I and ask. That didn’t happen and I’m still looking into that.”

“It’s like a second death. It’s like losing her all over again,” said Palmer.

In a statement, UCHealth, which owns and operates the University of Colorado Hospital, said:

“UCHealth understands that the loss of a pregnancy or newborn baby is extremely difficult for parents. We provide perinatal loss coordinators and counselors who can support parents, often meeting or talking with them many times over the course of weeks, helping them through their grief and bereavement following a loss. These coordinators, together with the office of decedent affairs, can work with parents or other family members to make decisions on disposition of a body while following Colorado state statutes and health department requirements on when and how those decisions must be made.”

Palmer said UCHealth should change its policy to notify parents before the 30 days is up, to make sure parents are aware their loved one’s remains could automatically be cremated if the remains aren’t picked up.

“I love my baby, and I wanted my baby, and I feel like I had that right. They should have called me, and I feel like they violated that not calling me,” said Palmer.

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