A grief-stricken Los Angeles family endured watching a loved one die due to COVID-19, but what happened in the days after the death of 72-year-old Victor Alonzo has been a nightmare.
Alonzo died on Jan. 9 at Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center. His family's sorrow rapidly turned into anger when they sent a funeral home to retrieve his body.
The funeral home was told that Alonzo’s body wasn’t there, family members said.
“[They] faxed the necessary information to the hospital for pickup. They went to pick him up, but he wasn’t there,” said Salvador Morales, Alonzo’s son.
“They told us, ‘We went to go pick up your father-in-law. They said the National Guard picked him up. We’ve never heard of this. Was he in the military, a secret agent?’ I said no! He wasn’t, he’s just a mechanic,” said Marilyn Morales, Alonzo’s daughter-in-law.
Hospitals in Southern California have been overrun by a post-holiday surge of COVID-19 patients. Due to the COVID-19 crush, the National Guard is helping LA’s County Coroner with body transport and storage, but Alonzo's family says it took many calls to the hospital to learn about this.
“A hospital worker said, ‘My supervisor advised us not to call anybody because there are too many bodies,'" said Morales "‘Excuse me? I go, ‘This is a family member. Just because he passed away he’s not a piece of garbage."
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When NBC4 asked the California Hospital Medical Center about Victor Alonzo’s case, they replied with a sympathy statement to the family, but they didn’t mention anything about the National Guard.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are more patients losing their lives and the demand on hospitals nationwide is extraordinary. We have located their loved one within our morgue and have reached out to the family,” said the hospital in the statement. “We are so very sorry for what this family has gone through and have modified our process to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
More than 1 million cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Los Angeles County.
Alonzo’s relatives have since then confirmed the hospital communicated with them, but they have doubts.
“Why, all of a sudden, they call my niece? [They said], ‘We have your grandfather here. He never left.’ I don’t believe them,” said Marilyn Morales.
The family says they will provide the funeral home with a photo of Victor Alonzo when they return to retrieve his body again to ensure the hospital delivers the correct body.
“I just want my dad. So we can do his cremation and bring him home. That’s all I want,” said Morales.