Hospital Launches Investigation After Man Discharged in Storm Found Dead in Snowbank

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A Machias hospital has launched an internal investigation into the death of a 61-year-old Eastport man whose body was found partially buried under fresh snow the day after he was discharged at his own request.

Reid Emery left Down East Community Hospital on Tuesday evening against the wishes of doctors and nurses, officials said. His body was found Wednesday afternoon a few hundred feet from the hospital.

Emery had walked out into a snowstorm without a jacket and with only slippers on his feet, according to police.

Although there is nothing suspicious about Emery's death, the case is far from closed.

"There is not that much I can say, but we are conducting an internal investigation and we're cooperating with the state in their investigation," Down East Community Hospital spokeswoman Robin Popp said Thursday. "Here at the hospital, we believe Mr. Emery received good care and [his death] is very unfortunate."

While police reports suggest that Emery froze to death, the state medical examiner's office said Thursday that the cause of death had not been determined. A spokeswoman indicated that additional tests may be performed and that a final determination could take up to five months.

Emery's family has declined comment on his death.

Popp said she could not discuss details of Emery's care and would not comment on reports that he was delusional when he left the hospital and had been given medication. Patients are generally allowed to sign themselves out of the hospital if they are deemed competent, she said.

Doug Jones, president and CEO of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth, said he could recall no situation during his tenure in which a patient was discharged and then ended up dead.

"But that's our worst nightmare," he said. "When a patient leaves, if they're not a known risk either to themselves or others, we can't keep them. All we can do is advise them of their situation."

Ann-Marie Knowles, director of care management for Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, offered a similar observation.

"It's really about making sure the patient or family member is making an informed decision [to leave]," she said. "As long as people have sufficient mental capacity, which is determined by the attending physician, they have the right to refuse treatment."