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Hospital Tells the Wrong Family Their Son Is Dead


It’s a phone call no one wants to get. Vannest Brown was at home with his family celebrating Janet Brown’s retirement from a Bay Area hospital after more than three decades of service. That’s when Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital called with horrible news. Vannest put the phone on speaker as the woman on the other line told him that his 30-year-old son was dead. But it all turned out to be a huge mix-up.

Vannest said the call was gut wrenching. “She said, ‘I’m sorry to inform you that your son has been shot and has passed away,’” he said of the woman calling from the hospital.

After hearing the news, Vannest called his sister, Ashanti, and her daughter, Chantell, to tell them what happened.  He was about to get in his car and drive to San Francisco when he called the hospital back and told them it had to be a mistake.

“I said, ‘You never gave me a description. Can you give me a description?’ And she said, ‘Yes, he has dreadlocks.’ I said ‘Stop!’” Vannest said.

That was enough to make him think that his son was, indeed, dead. He spent the next hour in agonizing pain with his family, trying to make sense of what had happened.

After more phone calls, the family finally discovered the truth: The man who died that day at Zuckerberg San Francisco General was not their son, it was another young man who was four inches taller and weighed 50 pounds more.

Two hours later, they finally confirmed with the hospital that their son was alive and well.

“And I just shook her and said, ‘It’s not him,’ because I was already holding her,” Ashanti Brown said of Janet. “Because I had been consoling her.”

“I just got up and just started running around the house,” Janet Brown said.

But their worries didn’t end there.

They still couldn’t get in touch with their son, and it wasn’t clear why the hospital had contacted them in the first place. Janet called the hospital to learn more about the man who had been killed.

“I kept calling and calling and it just went to voicemail,” she said.

As it turns out, the man who died was carrying their son’s driver’s license on his person.

On Thursday, the hospital released a statement saying, “it was discovered the deceased did not match the identification information in their possession. Staff immediately followed up and verified this misidentification with the emergency contacts.”

“We deeply regret the situation and apologize for the impacts to those involved. We remain committed to providing lifesaving care to patients in distress,” the hospital added.

But the Brown family isn’t satisfied. They say they still haven’t received an explanation from the hospital in terms of why and how this happened.

“Whatever protocol they have. What they did was not OK,” Janet Brown said.

The experience was particularly harrowing for the Brown family considering the number of black men in cities all over the country who are affected by gun violence. In 2022, one in every 67 black men ages 18 to 24 in Philadelphia were killed or injured in gun homicides or shootings. In Rochester, New York, it was one in 50 young black men, and in Cincinnati, it was one in 44 young black men.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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