Sally Green’s Anonymous Burial, Rochester, NY

I am writing this post in response to the story in the Rochester, NY, Democrat and Chronicle, of the anonymous burial of Sally Green, a woman who lived with a mental illness and somehow slipped through the cracks never receiving the help or care that she needed. What is most disturbing to me is the fact that her family was not notified of her death until she had been dead and buried for three weeks in a cardboard coffin (with or without a vault), in an anonymous, unmarked grave. In my opinion, the reason why this poor woman was buried in an anonymous grave wasn’t because her family didn’t care about her; it was due to the fact that she had mental health issues. The big questions in my mind are: why didn’t anyone take the time to locate her family, and who else is buried in this anonymous section of this public cemetery?

Sally Green Coffin - Tina Yee Photographer

Sally Green Coffin – Tina Yee Photographer

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, state “insane” asylums and hospitals, including the former Monroe County Insane Asylum later renamed Rochester State Hospital, buried thousands of patients in anonymous, unmarked graves. I was not aware that this practice was still in use. Who knows if the families of these patients were ever told what became of them. Most people are not aware that in the state of New York the unmarked, anonymous graves of the “mentally ill” located in former NYS Hospital cemeteries and public cemeteries such as Mount Hope Cemetery (Rochester, NY), cannot be marked with an engraved headstone and their names cannot be made public because of the interpretation of federal HIPAA Law by the NYS Office of Mental Health. To deny our ancestors and the recently deceased this simple remembrance, for all eternity, on the grounds that they were diagnosed with a mental illness, and, therefore, by law, they are not permitted to be remembered, is unconscionable.

Everyone should be remembered with dignity. I wonder if the public will be given an explanation as to why no one took the time to find out if Sally Anne had a family? These actions are dehumanizing, insulting and simply unacceptable.

Family Never Told Of Sally Green’s Death, Burial – Democrat & Chronicle 2.18.2012.
“Trudging through the wet grass in Oatka Cemetery, mud and rainwater creeping up the sides of her jeans as tears dripped down her face, Cynthia Green finally cried out. “This is so stupid! I’m just trying to find my sister!” On Jan. 19, Sally Green died at Strong Memorial Hospital, and in an apparent series of missteps and miscommunications, no one told her son Derrick or any of her eight living siblings that she had died until long after she was buried. Family members finally learned of her passing last week, and, seeking answers, they say they were repeatedly spurned by officials, none of whom were willing to claim responsibility for the mishap. When they finally visited the small section of Oatka Cemetery reserved for indigent burials — home to about 300 others that the county has had buried there over the past six years — they searched for her resting place for more than half an hour. Sally Green’s was one of the many unmarked graves, so the family eventually had to ask for assistance from the cemetery caretaker, who pointed them to the right spot: a flat pile of mud unmarked by anything other than a small yellow rock. They said a prayer as they gathered around the burial site, where beneath their feet, the body of their mother and sister lay in a coffin that was little more than a glorified cardboard box marked “Handle with care.” “Can you imagine someone in your family getting buried without notifying you, and then you find out a month later?” said Derrick Green. “All of this is just crazy. Mentally, I’m so drained right now. I just don’t want this to happen to no one else.”

A Troubled Life
Afflicted with a mental illness, Sally Green had been drifting for the past several years, said her sister Cynthia Green. She was in and out of homeless shelters, and a drinking problem led to numerous hospitalizations. She was found on the morning of Jan. 19 in a room at the Cadillac Hotel, where she’d been staying for the previous two weeks, and was pronounced dead at Strong at 10:07 p.m. She was 57. But family members say that no one at the hospital called them, nor did anyone at the Monroe County Public Administrator’s Office, which is tasked with tracking down surviving family members and preparing funeral arrangements if no family is located. In the case of Sally Green, this shouldn’t have been difficult. Her son, as well as six of her eight living siblings, lives in the Rochester area. She has numerous cousins in Rochester as well, four of whom work for the Rochester Police Department. Additionally, she always carried identification and an address book with her, but officials never showed up at the Cadillac Hotel to search her belongings, said Tina Spence, the hotel’s front desk clerk. “They could have easily found where I was at,” said Derrick Green, 42, of Rochester. The family now wants the county to pay to have the body exhumed so they can conduct their own funeral and bury Sally Green next to her mother, Cora Green. “My mom is not resting well right now,” said Derrick Green. “This way, at least we could say goodbye to her in the right kind of way.” They’d also like a better explanation as to the cause of her death. To date, the family has no insight into how she died other than a three-word description on the death certificate: “acute myocardial infarction” — or a heart attack, in common terms. On Friday, officials at Strong Memorial Hospital called the family and set up a meeting to explain the cause of her death further, said Derrick Green. Social workers at the hospital attempted to locate relatives on the day Sally Green was admitted but were unable to find any, said Teri D’Agostino, spokesperson for Strong Memorial Hospital. When Green died, the hospital turned the case over to the public administrator, Frank Iacovangelo, said D’Agostino. Iacovangelo’s firm, Gallo & Iacovangelo, did not return a call seeking comment. Monroe County also did not return a call seeking comment.

Fourth Of 10 Siblings
Born to Miles and Cora Green, Sally Green was the fourth of 10 siblings. As a youth, she would often wait until her mother fell asleep clutching her baby sister Cynthia before sneaking over and bringing the baby into her own bed to hold. She grew to be a caring girl with a sarcastic sense of humor and a penchant for taking baths — sometimes more than once a day, said her sister Linda Cloud. She had Derrick when she was 15 years old, but several years later, she began showing signs of mental illness. Unable to care for her son, she gave him up for adoption, but he returned to the family and reunited with his mother when he was 16, family members said. Later in her life, with her mental illness compounded by alcohol abuse, she often found herself staying at the House of Mercy, a homeless shelter in Rochester. There, she became affectionately known as the “lipstick bandit,” because she would often spread lipstick beyond the reaches of her lips and up the sides of her cheeks, said Cynthia Green. In recent months, she lived with her son and called him regularly when he wasn’t home. “I used to be like ‘Why are you calling me so much?'” said Derrick Green. “But thinking of it now, I think she wanted to be around me because she knew her days were coming to an end.” She moved into the Cadillac Hotel on Jan. 5, and her son was helping her find an apartment of her own, he said. Though she stayed there for only two weeks prior to her death, she endeared herself to the staff, thanks to her bright orange hat and affinity for burnt popcorn. On Jan. 29, two days after her burial, a one-line obituary ran in the Democrat and Chronicle, but several more days would pass before family members learned of her death. She is predeceased by her brother Gary, and survived by her son Derrick; her brother Miles; her sisters Gloria, Cora, Joyce, Cynthia, Clara Ingram, Mildred Gibson and Linda Cloud; and many other relatives. Derrick Green said he’s had trouble eating, sleeping, and working since his mother died. “I only have one mother,” he said, “and I want someone to be liable for what they have done.” & Twitter: @Sean_Dobbin

Monroe County Public Administrator Reveals New Protocol For Finding Next Of Kin, Changes Made In Response To Sally Green Case – David Andreatta – Democrat & Chronicle 4.26.2012
“The circumstances that led to Sally Green being buried in a pauper’s grave unbeknownst to her family were “unusual and exceptional,” the Monroe County public administrator, who authorized the burial, wrote to the Monroe County Legislature in a letter dated this week. The public administrator, Frank Iacovangelo, wrote in response to legislators who questioned his protocol for locating next of kin following Democrat and Chronicle reports of Green’s burial and subsequent exhumation from Oatka Cemetery in Scottsville. Iacovangelo paid to have Green reburied at Mt. Hope Cemetery. A private lawyer under contract with the county, Iacovangelo wrote that the incident prompted a “thorough review” of his office’s protocol and “resulted in an enhancement of office procedures to prevent any recurrence of burial without family notification and approval.” The letter, dated April 23 and to which new procedures were appended, marked the first time he has publicly revealed the extent of the changes and said the Green situation was unique. “Up until (Green’s burial in) February of this year, I have never had a situation arise where I was unable to find a relative willing to act (on behalf of the deceased) when such a person actually existed,” the letter read. The matter of Green, who had drifted in and out of homelessness and was estranged from her family when she died in January, turned a spotlight on taxpayer-funded indigent burials and the function of the public administrator, who is charged with handling the estates of the poor and people who die without a will or executor. Much of the new protocol reads like a list of common sense steps one might take to track down relatives of people disconnected from society.”