Homicide detectives have worked out an agreement with LDS Hospital that they hope will prevent a Henry Storms case from happening again.
A hospital administrator gave Salt Lake Police Sgt. Don Bell the names and phone numbers of three top administrators who can be reached should the police need more information than the lower-level employees are willing to give out.The medical examiner's office also met with the hospital to express concerns about how death certificates are handled.
Problems between the police and hospital climaxed earlier this month when homicide detectives learned that Storms - a 59-year-old transient who was found beaten on Sept. 2 - had died in a nursing home on Oct. 18.
Storms had been in the hospital before being discharged to a nursing home. Hospital personnel, however, refused to tell the police about the discharge, citing privacy policies.
By the time police learned of Storms' death, it was too late to perform an autopsy because the body had been cremated.
"We closed the Henry Storms case yesterday," said Bell. "We classified it as an aggravated assault. Until we have the medical examiner tell us it's a homicide, we don't have a homicide. It's that simple."
Though police suspect Storms was beaten and that the injuries eventually caused his death, they will never be able to prove it without an autopsy.
Also, Storms' true identity will never be known. No photographs or fingerprints were taken while the victim was in the hospital.
"Either he lives or dies. If he dies, we do all that at the autopsy," Bell said. "We're not sure he is Henry Storms and will never know for sure."
Bell met with a hospital administrator last week to try to get the institution to ease up on its disclosure policy.
"I explained my situation to them; they explained theirs to me. My situation differed from theirs, but that's what we'll have to live with.
"The problem was, we weren't dealing with the right people but, now, supposedly we are."
Meanwhile, Dr. Todd Grey, state medical examiner, is reviewing available medical records on Storms to prepare a new death certificate.
The doctor who signed Storms' death certificate apparently did so in error, Grey said. But the medical examiner said he will not pursue legal action against the doctor.
"But I'm determining whether to send a letter of admonishment or education to the doctor to explain the law."
State law requires all accidental, violent or suspicious deaths to be reported to the medical examiner.
In Storms' case, the doctor who signed the death certificate should have known that the death was not natural and was likely the result of an assault, Grey said.
In related matters, Grey met with LDS Hospital officials to ask them to consider organizing a central office to clear all death certificates.
Grey said the hospital sent out seven or eight inappropriate death certificates last year.
That means seven or eight people who died of suspicious or accidental circumstances were buried without an autopsy.