Karen Simpkins was dressed in hospital clothing and socks when a passerby came across her lifeless body sprawled on a grassy area across from the homeless shelter where she had spent the previous night.
Medics declared her dead at the scene, according to Baltimore City police.
Now the family of the 58-year-old wants to know what happened in the last hours of her life. They have spent the days since she died last Tuesday trying to piece it together.
“I just want to find out what happened to my sister,” said Angel Settle, Simpkins’ younger sibling, who lives in Washington, D.C. “If it happened to your family member, you would want the same thing.”
Simpkins was homeless and spent nights at the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center on Fallsway, which is also the place where homeless people are sent in extreme weather conditions. On Monday, she was in the area of the shelter when she fell and was taken to University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown by ambulance, said Rowena Daly, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Baltimore, which runs the shelter for the city.
She remained at the hospital all day and was discharged and brought back to the shelter by taxi at about 2 a.m., Daly said.
“When she arrived back she did not want to get out of the cab,” said Daly, recounting what staff told her about that night. “She was laying in the backseat and she wasn’t speaking and she didn’t want to get out.
“There was no explanation why she was discharged,” Daly said. “We just brought her in and gave her a bed.”
Simpkins spent the night at the shelter and at some point during the day walked to the grassy area across from the shelter. The staff of the shelter heard commotion in the afternoon and somebody said a body was found across the street. A staff member ran over and an ambulance was called, according to police spokeswoman Nicole Monroe.
Simpkins was wearing a green hospital gown and socks and it appeared she had a hospital band on her wrists, Monroe said. There were no signs of trauma.
The medical examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
In the meantime, Simpkins’ family wants to know what happened. Questions they have include why was she released from the hospital and why she wasn’t wearing her own clothes. They say it’s hard to grieve and find closure because they haven’t been able to see Simpkins’ body.
“We know that she was fine and she went to the hospital and she died,” said brother-in-law Vincent Settle. “We are just trying to figure out what happened. That is our big concern.”
University of Maryland Medical Center officials would not discuss details of the case because of privacy laws, but said they were saddened by Simpkins’ death.
“While we are legally precluded from addressing questions regarding specifics of any patient or the accuracy of claims put forth by other parties, we challenge the unfounded speculation that UMMC contributed to her death,” hospital officials said in a statement. “We are fully committed to caring for all members of our community with safe, appropriate and compassionate care, including having processes in place to ensure that no patient is discharged to a shelter without verifying that the shelter has the capacity for them. We encourage Ms. Simpkins’ sister to go through the proper process to allow us to share any information we have.”
When asked why Simpkins was released at 2 a.m. and in hospital clothes, spokeswoman Lisa Clough said: “We cannot speak to the accuracy of any of the information being put forth by others on this matter. It is inappropriate to conclude that allegations by others are fact.”
Settle said that she wasn’t sure what hospital her sister was admitted to and has been visiting different ones trying to figure it out. She said would like to talk to hospital officials about what happened to her sister.
“I just need them to realize that the people who are dying in the streets, people love them,” Settle said.