The enigma around how the elderly patients took their last breath at Shanghai Donghai Elderly Care Hospital has left families in disbelief. They refuse to have them cremated until they get the real answer about how their loved ones passed away.

Here’s the story of Ms. An, whose mother-in-law, Ms. Zhao, was declared dead on March 29. 

Speaking to the Chinese outlet Da Ji Yuan, An said the hospital reassured her that the old lady was still fine and taken care of at noon that day. Only several hours later, the clinic dialed again and stated that the woman had died at 10:55 in the morning.

Because of the pandemic at the time in Shanghai, An and her family were last able to visit Ms. Zhang by the end of February. 

The woman was 98 years old but was generally in good condition at the time of her hospitalization. She did not suffer from dementia but had a slight cerebral infarction and high blood pressure. While at the hospital, she sustained a fractured hip. 

An said her mother-in-law was still able to eat normally. But because everyone in her ward ate liquid food, the hospital only fed her with it. The facility also gave her a flattop haircut to make it easier to wash her hair. 

On March 24, the hospital informed An that Ms. Zhang had contracted coronavirus. It, however, failed to provide the family with any proof of the infection. Updates on the old woman’s conditions were blacked out from then on.

The hospital said the woman died of organ failure and sequelae of cerebral infarction despite telling the family that Ms. Zhang had been infected with the virus. Citing COVID-19 protocols, the family was prevented from seeing the deceased. 

It became dubious for Ms. An that even a picture of the patient was not given. They had no means to confirm the identity of the person.

As the family refused to cremate the patient, the hospital released a COVID-positive report from Ms. Zhang. This contradicted the official report the government’s health-tracking program released on March 31 that the woman was virus-free.

Ms. An added that the hospital had warned her not to discuss the matter with her relatives and the media. She believed it was trying to hide the truth.

Dong Hai Hospital is Shanghai’s largest elderly-care facility. News about families rejecting cremation offers was already reported in April by the Wall Street Journal. At the time, the news agency said at least one family demanded an autopsy to clarify how their relative had passed away.

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