People occasionally present to a hospital’s emergency department (ED) after an event such as a heart attack or a motor vehicle accident that results in their sudden and unexpected death. Although members of the ED attempt to support the survivors as much as possible, due to the fast pace of the environment and responsibilities to other patients, the survivors may not always be provided with the necessary resources and support. This can leave survivors feeling isolated and confused about the appropriate course of action after this type of experience. A planned, organized approach delivered by educated and sensitive staff can help to alleviate this overwhelming experience (Adamowski, Dickinson, Weitzman, Roessler, and Carter-Snell, 1993). Kaul (2001) identified the emergency department social worker as the most appropriate person to coordinate the entire death notification process including supporting the survivors. Nurses may not have the time available to spend with the survivors due to their responsibilities to other patients. The author also contends that clergy in many health care institutions are not as familiar with the emergency room environment as a social worker who is in it every day. Therefore, Kaul proposes that the social worker is the most logical choice to complete this task because their professional training includes assessment, crisis intervention, and cultural diversity and because the social worker’s primary function is to provide support for people experiencing crisis. Between the years of 2003-2008, there were 126 unexpected deaths in the ED at Immanuel St. Joseph’s Hospital (ISJ) in Mankato, which included 16 deaths in 2008. Currently, ISJ does not have a formal policy in place which outlines support provided to the survivors of an unexpected death in the ED. The purpose of this research is to learn what type of support other hospital organizations provide to the survivors of an unexpected death in the ED and the role of the social worker in this program.


David Beimers

Date of Degree




Document Type

Other Capstone Project


Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Social and Behavioral Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License