Who should you call first when someone suddenly takes ill or dies at home?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

If a loved one suddenly takes ill or even dies at home which call comes first: police, primary care physician, 9ll, or the nearest hospital ambulance?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

The answer is a bit different, depending on whether a sudden illness or sudden death is involved.

If a sudden illness strikes and the goal is to get quick medical help, it is usually advisable to call 911, where operators can usually dispatch the nearest ambulance service. Beware, however, that unless the ill person is wearing a "comfort care only" necklace or bracelet or some other locally-acceptable sign of not wanting heroic life-saving measures to be performed, emergency personnel who are responding are duty-bound to provide them.

If it's a death that occurs at home, the calling hierarchy may depend on whether the death was expected or unexpected.

If the death was expected, call the doctor, although you need not do this immediately, particularly if it occurs in the middle of the night. If you call 911, inform the operator that the death was expected; despite clear signs that death has already occurred, emergency medical personnel will most likely attempt resuscitation. If hospice is involved, notify the on-call nurse.

If the death was unexpected,
call 911. The police and emergency medical personnel will determine the next appropriate steps. Under certain circumstances, they may be required to contact the local coroner.

Community Answers

Suziq answered...

This "detailed" evaluation is really good. One thing I might add re the "comfort care only" necklace or bracelet is having a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) legal document on hand (and filed with the appropriate doctors). Obviously, this only works if someone else is around to instruct the EMTs. I've learned (the hard way) that all EMTs don't always read what's on a Medic Alert tag, even if they have the time.

My Mom had a heart attack Feb. 2009 and, afterwards, all her cardiologists said NO CPR should be attempted. I told them it was important they take the time to explain all this to Mom (first of all, it's HER life and, less important, I didn't want to be blamed by siblings that I "let Mom die"). The doctors told the entire family about the importance of a "DNR" for her as any heroic attempts would only do more damage due to her own specific health circumstances.

Jacky33 answered...

if the emt read the papers, dnr'''''' even hosp. not ask for that

Lrw answered...

I was with my mom when she took her last breath. There were what seemed like infinite amounts of time between breaths at the end. And then there were no more breaths. Very peaceful. Before calling anyone, I sat with Mom in this very peaceful after death environment and prayed and meditated. I remembered to put her false teeth back in or rigormortis sets in and you can't open the mouth any longer. Anyway, after awhile Zi called the Hospice nurse and the hearse came to take her away. It was hard to believe as I watched her body get taken on a stretcher and put into the hearse and trying to comprehend that she would no longer return. It was difficult and beautiful at the same time. Mom would have liked that very few people at the assisted living place actually watched her leave in the hearse cause it was so late at night. Mom was a very private and elegant person. It was perfect in its own way.

Creamnpeaches33 answered...

I hope that all is well with you at this time.

Milwaukee, WI