What to Do When Death Comes at Home

When Death Comes at Home

Even when you know the end is near, the loss of someone you love can cause panic, grief and confusion. Not knowing what to do next can cause additional distress. Clients have asked for information on what to do when death comes to a loved one receiving care at home. This posting is a response to that request.

The circumstances determine whether anything must be done immediately. The information below does not cover every situation, but provides some general guidance. 

If death is expected…

.. and no one was with the person at the time of death, the police must be notified to respond to the residence. Tennessee law requires that the County Medical Examiner be notified if someone is found deceased. The police will make the telephone call to the Medical Examiner.
. . and your loved one has been receiving Hospice care, contact the Hospice nurse, and she will assist you in notifying the appropriate people and making the necessary arrangements.
.. and someone is with your loved one at death, there is no hurry to take action. Notify the doctor who has been caring for your loved one. You may wish to notify family members, clergy or a trusted friend to sit with you. Call the funeral home, and they will come and remove the body.

If death is unexpected…

.. and no one was with the person at the time of death, the police must be notified to respond to the residence. Tennessee law requires that the County Medical Examiner be notified if someone is found deceased. The police may make the telephone call to the Medical Examiner.

.. and you are with someone who has a sudden illness, accident or violent event, call 911. The 911 website defines a medical emergency as “someone who is unconscious, gasping for air or not breathing, experiencing an allergic reaction, having chest pain, having uncontrollable bleeding, or any other symptom that requires immediate medical attention.” When to call 911.

Be aware that the 911 paramedics will not stop to determine the legality or applicability of any advance care directives or Living Will that your loved one may have signed. Their duty is to save lives, and that is what they will try to do.

The only document that will stop emergency responders from attempting resuscitation is a completed Physician Order for Scope of Treatment (POST) indicating that CPR should not be done. The POST must be signed by the physician and by the patient or their health care agent. If the POST form indicates that CPR should not be attempted, the emergency paramedics should honor it as they would a written doctor’s order.

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