Coronavirus: Multiple families report missing items of dying COVID-19 patients

NEW YORK (WABC) -- More people are coming forward saying that hospitals have lost their dying loved one's possessions amid the coronavirus pandemic, after 7 On Your Side Investigates reported on a case in New Jersey earlier this month.

"Oh my God, it's just awful," Janine DeVito said. "I just don't want anybody to have to go through this."

DeVito wasn't able to be by her father Lorenzo's side when he died of COVID-19 complications last month in a Brooklyn hospital. She had to say goodbye to him over the telephone because visitors aren't allowed inside ICU rooms during the pandemic.

"We got to talk to him from the point of coding to the point of him passing, which was amazing for us because we couldn't be there," she said.

But when she went to collect her father's valuables, the hospital told her they could not be located.

"You feel like you've been stripped of so much, because you couldn't be there with him, you couldn't give him a proper funeral, and now, I can't even have the things that he wore at the end," she said.

That includes the hat he wore every day for the past 20 years. He didn't go anywhere without it, his daughter said, including the hospital.

"This process of having to go through this loss in this world right now is difficult as it is," she said. "And then to have to go through not having anything and not have it for yourself, it's just so much worse."

It's happening to families across the Tri-State Area. While many are dealing with the loss of a loved one to COVID-19, they're also dealing with the loss of something else -- their personal belongings.

It includes items ranging from wallets to computers to car keys.

When Larry Cohen, of Toms River, passed away of COVID complications in a New Jersey hospital, his computer and hard drive disappeared.

"He's in your care, you're responsible for him, and you're also responsible for his belongings," his sister, Stephanie Hill, said.

The hospital told 7 On Your Side Investigates that it is changing procedures for storing belongings.

And when Ruth Leapman, of Union, New Jersey, died of COVID-19 in a separate hospital, her bag with everything inside including her phone and wallet went missing.

"It's horrible," daughter Melissa Dias said, "I feel so bad for all the people going through this"

In all of the cases, the patients were on ventilators before passing away at different hospitals. They couldn't have visitors in the room and couldn't watch over their own belongings.

"I understand the pandemic," Dias said. "I understand the fear, but they have to understand there are families that are losing their loved ones, and this is what they have left. And they need to do better."

The hospitals offered to reimburse the families for the lost items, but the victims say the personal items -- like pictures in their loved ones phones and wallets -- are irreplaceable.

"Why is his stuff not important?" DeVito said.

7 on your Side Investigates reached out to all three hospitals, which said they each have policies and procedures in place to secure patient belongings.

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