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In care home mix up, misidentified COVID-19 victim buried by live woman’s family

Chaya Freeman’s relatives only found out about her death days later, after her identity was switched with that of another patient as they were transferred between facilities

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An undated photo of Chaya Freiman with her grandson, Elian Fitusi (Facebook)
An undated photo of Chaya Freiman with her grandson, Elian Fitusi (Facebook)

An elderly care home resident who died of COVID-19 last week was misidentified and buried even as her family was being reassured that she was alive and well, her grandson said Sunday.

Meanwhile, a second family was notified that their relative had died when she was, in fact, alive.

Chaya Freiman’s identity apparently became mixed up with that of another virus patient when they were transferred between care homes, leading to the mistake.

Freiman’s family only found out about her death three days after she was interred, and then only by chance, after a fresh photo of the second woman — who had supposedly died — was sent to shocked staff at her original care home.

Fitusi said Freiman’s family felt it was “being lied to” by officials. “We have no explanations as to what happened to my grandmother and it breaks our hearts to imagine what she might have gone through, and that we couldn’t even bury her properly according to tradition and sit shiva.”

The Health Ministry has said it will set up a committee to investigate the matter, while the two care homes involved have blamed each other for the incident.

Freiman’s family has asked the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court to order her body exhumed from the Beersheba grave, to allow an autopsy to be performed and to enable them to bury her in her hometown of Ashkelon.

אהלן חברים רציתי לשתף אתכם בסיפור שבשבילי אישית לא הגיוני שהוא בכלל קורה ב2021 ואולי ממחיש מה קורה במדינה הזאת…קצת…

Posted by Elian Fitusi on Saturday, September 4, 2021

In a lengthy post to his Facebook page on Saturday, Freiman’s grandson Elian Fitusi described the chain of events that led to the incident.

Freeman was, until last week, a resident of a care home in Ashkelon that was identified in Hebrew media reports as the Naot Avi home. On August 28 she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and, in accordance with Health Ministry directives, was moved to a care home in Bnei Brak that has a dedicated coronavirus section, Vatikim Center. Another resident of Naot Avi, also with COVID-19, was likewise transferred to the Bnei Brak facility.

The two women were transferred with bracelets identifying them, and the two care homes have fought over whether the bracelets were correct.

Fitusi’s mother twice called Vatikim Center to ask about her mother, Freiman, who had severe dementia, and was told that she was doing fine, eating and drinking, he wrote.

In fact, Freiman had by then died and been buried under a different name. Due to her death by coronavirus, family members could not personally identify her. Rather, a photo was provided to a somewhat distant relative of the second woman, who accidentally confirmed it to be her.

Several days later, Naot Avi sent Rosh Hashanah holiday gifts to their patients being treated at Vatikim Center, and asked that staff at the second care home photograph the residents getting them. A social worker at Naot Avi was stunned when she then got a photo of “Chaya Freiman” receiving her gift, which was in fact the woman who had supposedly died a few days prior.

Fitusi said his family was visited by staff from Naot Avi who broke the news to them that his grandmother had in fact died and been buried under a different name.

Concurrently relatives of the second woman, having just attended her funeral, were told she was actually still alive. They have not spoken to the media about the incident so far.

According to Fitusi, officials seemed confused themselves as to exactly what had happened. When the family demanded explanations, “we didn’t get logical answers. All that they said was ‘we are still checking.'”

The Health Ministry said in a statement Sunday an investigatory committee will “examine the serious and regrettable incident in which an identification mistake was made in the burial of a woman who died of coronavirus.”

In the meantime, the two care homes have both issued statements blaming each other for what happened.

Naot Avi said in a statement it was “negligent conduct” on behalf of the Bnei Brak home and insisted that the correct identification bracelets were on each woman before they were transferred. However, Vatikim Center blamed Naot Avi, saying the patients arrived with incorrect identities and, in a letter, warned Naot Avi of a libel lawsuit over the matter.

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