In July, Crown Heights resident Shirell Powell received a call she wasn't expecting from St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. They informed her that her 40-year-old brother, Frederick Williams, had been admitted to the hospital and was close to death. She spent over a week at his bedside, and after the hospital told her that there were no options for her brother, who was brain-dead, she said she made the decision to take him off life support.
She later learned that the man was not her brother.
Powell's real brother, whose name is also Frederick and who is the same age as the late Freddy Clarence Williams, is in jail. Now, Powell is suing St. Barnabas for the mixup that she says caused her to accidentally take a stranger off life support.
Powell's attorney, Alexander M. Dudelson, filed a complaint to the Bronx County Supreme Court earlier this month, stating that on July 15th, 2018, several employees of St. Barnabas "negligently advised the plaintiff that Frederick Williams had been admitted to St. Barnabas hospital in an unconscious state," that Williams had suffered brain damage from a narcotics overdose, and that the doctor "negligently advised the plaintiff that he did not think Frederick Williams would 'make it.'"
The complaint also alleges that when Freddy Clarence Williams was admitted, he had identification on him, including a social security card—and that St. Barnabas placed him under a different patient profile, that of Frederick Williams, Powell's brother, who had been a patient there before.
Powell told the NY Post that when she first arrived to the hospital, she saw that while the man's face appeared swollen, he had similar features to her brother. Williams was unconscious upon arrival and remained that way until the end. "He couldn’t speak from the time they brought him in the hospital," she said. "They just assumed it was my brother.”
Powell says her sister did not initially believe the man in the hospital was their brother, but that as "she walked up closer, and you could see the resemblance, and she was like, ‘Oh, OK.’"
Once Powell conferred with her family and they said their farewells, they authorized the hospital to take him off life support on July 29th, 2018. Following the autopsy and an investigation, the Chief Medical Examiner's Office determined in August that the deceased was not Frederick Williams, according to documents obtained by Gothamist.
It remains unclear whether the deceased man had any family, and whether they have been informed of the manner in which he died.
St. Barnabas did not respond to our request for comment, but a spokesperson told the Post, "We don’t feel there is any merit to this claim."
Powell's real brother remains in jail on Rikers Island, reportedly on an assault charge. In an interview with the Post, he said he has forgiven his sister for taking "him" off life support, saying, "The doctors told her they couldn’t do anything. I’m not mad at her.”