Dealing with deaths in a hotel
One thing that no-one admits to you when you go into the hotel trade is that people die, and they may well die on your shift or in your premises. And when this does happen, no-one ever tells you what to do, shock generally takes over and there tends to be a bit of an eclectic commotion whilst someone tries to figure out what to do.
I have seen several people die in hotels, whether this is me being unfortunate or it’s just right place wrong time, I don’t know. But it has taught me a lot about dealing not only with the fact that someone has died on site, but also how to deal with the surrounding public and the relatives.
So I thought I would pass this experience on to help others know what to do and how to respond to such a dramatic turn of events. The first time I knew that people actually died in hotels was when my sister came home from her housekeeping job early, after most of the staff were sent home when a male guest was discovered to have committed suicide within the hotel. I was 14 at the time and this was pretty much the first time that I realised that hotels were not only hard work, but that not everyone always walked back out after their stay. The gentleman who died had checked in anonymously, left no identifiable information and paid cash. No-one knew who he truly was and despite various media publicity, it seems that to this day he may not have been formally identified and his family informed, and I still think about this from time to time as this is the incident that made me realise hat hotels are not always safe havens where everything is perfect and everyone is happy.
I know, from experience, that dealing with someone dying in a hotel environment is stressful, scary, and can fill you full of fear and panic. So here are my steps to dealing with the death of a guest, irrespective of where in the hotel it is.
- Prepare Yourself! You may never have experienced a death or seen a dead body before and it is a scary, bewildering experience the first time. If the incident is the first time you have dealt with an incident like this, try to let someone else do the majority of incident handling unless there is no other choice but for you to deal with it. I would strongly recommend that if you have to deal with this and have no other choice that you be fully prepared for what you can usually expect:
- A dead body. This is to be expected and contrary to popular belief, if the cause of death is sudden and not related to severe injury or bleeding, there is generally little to be afraid of. Remember that if you need to touch the body for any reason, such as checking for a pulse, then you should wear a pair of medical or latex gloves.
- Distressed people. This may be staff, it may be relatives, it may be friends. No matter who they are they will generally be distressed by the discovery or even witness of a death.
- Potential danger. The death may be due to a dangerous piece of equipment or similar, so do not just blindly charge in; make sure it is safe to enter a room first!
- Remain Calm – it is difficult to do this, but if you are accustomed to working in hotels for years, allow your professional facade to take over and run the show. You will be shocked, and you will be distressed but you must not panic under any circumstances as panic spreads extraordinarily quickly! All comments you make must be spoken in a calm, measured tone (even if your voice is shaky). If you need to take a break to re-compose yourself, explain this to another staff member of available and confirm you are okay to just take a break for a few minutes.
- Remember D.I.E. -
- D is for Dial. Dial the emergency services if not already done so by someone else and provide as many details as you are aware of.
- I is for Isolate. Isolate the immediate area, if necessary removing other people from the surrounding space. Regardless of the size of room you are in, there should be absolutely no other guests around except any immediate family, even then the immediate family should be taken to a separate room or similar once the emergency services arrive (but you will find that removing the family is usually almost impossible!). If the guest died alone in a room, and has no pulse, then immediately leave the room, lock e door and ensure no-one except emergency services enter. Under no circumstances should you touch anything in the room or area unless necessary (e.g. Touching a door handle is fine, but going through the drawers and wardrobe is unnecessary).
- E is for Explore. Find out the guests details, so name, address, date of birth, age, medical conditions, medication being taken, events leading up to death. These are for the emergency services and should be noted down so that you can also use them for any incident reports that are needed. You will also need to check the time, and if your watch has a stopwatch, start it! When emergency services arrive, if someone has been trying CPR, the length of time you have been carrying out CPR be a deciding factor in the treatment and actions taken by the emergency services so knowing you have been doing CPR for 3 minutes 2 seconds, is better than saying ‘oh somewhere around 5 minutes I think!)
- Keep Everyone Away! Only key members of staff should be present, such as management and first aiders, as no-one else is really able to do anything to assist. Generally the rule should be a manager, 2 first aiders or members of staff able to carry out CPR/resuscitation (only necessary in the case of a recent sudden death and not for discovery of a dead body), and one person per door to stop entry the area. These people should be stationed outside the door, rather then inside the room or area. If you do not have enough staff for each door, you will find that the public are generally very willing to assist and stand guard for you.
- Greet the emergency services – by greeting them outside when they arrive, you can ‘walk and talk’ by them details of the guest that you have already collected, along with information what has happened at the same time as walking to the area where the guest is positioned. This saves time and could be vital for resuscitation
- Keep the area clear! until investigations are complete, or you have been given clearance by emergency services, do not allow anyone to start using the area. A risk assessment may be necessary depending on the circumstances surrounding the death. If the death is in a public area, such as a reception, you may need to consider closing the hotel temporarily if this is your only access point and cannot be kept clear but this is rare. If the death occurred in a bedroom, keep the room out of order until such a time as any investigations are completed.
- Reporting – this is a different post altogether, but it is usually necessary to report incidents of death (in the UK it may fall under RIDDOR legislation). The local police will usually attend and will be able to advise on any reporting you need to make. Similarly, hotel management or head offices and local authorities will be able to provide this information.
- Seek professional coping assistance! In the UK you can ring one of the many charities that offer assistance with dealing with death and most are available via the telephone. I thoroughly recommend that you make use of some counselling services at least for the first two deaths you have at work. Even though many people may feel initially fine, member that in times of stress your brain releases chemicals that help your body adjust and cope. Once these chemicals wear off, you could find yourself suddenly very distressed by what has happened. Similarly, your body and mind could be so shocked that the blank out all memory of the incident or natural response to the incident, effectively placing you in to a state of shock. If this happens, you may need to seek intensive professional help, but generally unless you were very close to the person who has died, this is generally not required.if you think you may need time off, and may need support returning to work, speak to your work and your doctor to discuss ongoing support and coping strategies.
So there is my tuppence on dealing with death in a hotel. Please bear in mind that there are lots of other little bits such as press handling, cleaning and legislation but these are separate to the main point of this post, that it is to help people know what to do immediately.
I am sure everyone will be able to add something as a comment about incidents they have dealt with or heard about and I would love to hear your stories and how you dealt with things!