Decedent Care Services - Autopsy Services

Proven Approach to Coordinating Care at the Time of Death

Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's Decedent Care Services (DCS) is devoted to handling a decedent's affairs in a sensitive, confidential, and efficient manner. The Decedent Care team is dedicated to providing support and assistance during the most difficult time for families and staff. Founded in 1970 the PSHMC DCS was modeled after programs at the University of Iowa and Case Western Reserve. DCS has provided support for the Department of Pathology and the Hospital at large for over 40 years. Through DCS, services that might be performed by as many as six other hospital units are combined into one central service, providing control and efficiency over the death care process.

Our Mission

We strive to provide guidance and support for family members and hospital staff, ensuring that all actions in the continuum of care are administered with confidentiality and respect. We provide technical and logistical support so that all parties have positive outcomes within an efficient time frame.

The team consists of a Medical Director, Administrative Manager, Supervisor, and 2 full and 4 part time Decedent Care Associates (DCAs). Our 24 hours/day, 365 days/year operation provides quality services around the clock.

The DCA's are trained professionals who provide a calm and supportive presence during an emotional and potentially stressful time. Each DCA has mortuary or science related backgrounds and degrees.

Dr. Zhaohai Yang
Medical Director

Allyson Lewis

The DCS team works collaboratively with multiple departments and organizations to communicate information essential to the process that takes place after a death.

Prior to family contact, a Decedent Care Associate (DCA) reviews the patient's medical record and demographic data to become familiar with information such as who is the legal next of kin (NOK). If necessary, the DCA will contact the County Coroner to determine and assist with jurisdiction.

The DCA meets with the clinician to discuss death certification and case options, which may include autopsy consent.

Autopsy Services

An autopsy is a dignified and detailed surgical examination of the body after death that provides diagnostic information to the family and treating physicians. Autopsy findings usually validate major clinical diagnoses and may refine or clarify clinical data. Occasionally, an autopsy reveals important unexpected information about a patient's disease or condition. Autopsy information is a vital component of education and continuous quality improvement.

Autopsies are performed without charge to family members of a deceased in-patient. An autopsy may be performed without charge on an established Hershey Medical Center patient who passed away at home or in a care facility. All autopsies are performed by pathologists, physicians with specialized training in laboratory medicine. A typical autopsy requires 3-6 hours and should not delay or restrict funeral arrangements.

If an autopsy is requested, the DCA will assist the next of kin in completing an informed consent and discussing any limitations they wish to impose on the autopsy.  Autopsies are also performed for contracted hospitals.

Organ/Tissue Donation

In Accordance with PA Act 102, DCAs report the death to an organ/tissue donor agency and assist in the initial screening to determine donor suitability and maintain a record of the event. If donation consent is obtained, the DCA often assists the agency and the next of kin in the completion of the consent and then coordinates transfer of the patient for the procedure.

Family Agent Interaction

The DCA will meet with the next of kin to obtain contact information and identify who the family's agent for disposition will be: funeral home, cremation or body donation service. They will assist with initial contact and coordinate timely release of the patient's remains.

Research Support Service

DCS provides technical support for research programs within and outside of the medical center and is a regional neural tissue harvest center.

Liaison Service

DCS provides referral, communication and assistance with various organizations including but not limited to: Coroner, Police Department, State Department or Foreign Embassy, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Military Commanding Officer, Red Cross, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  In house communication includes but not limited to: Medical Records, Infection Control, Bed Management, Risk Management and Quality Services.


The Decedent Care Center staff and pathologists are dedicated to enhancing knowledge of families, physicians, nurses, health care students, Chaplains and other allied health personnel.



A Service that operates on a 24 hour-a-day basis is not inexpensive; however, cost analyses have shown that when compared with all the hospital personnel that would be involved with death matters, the office is efficient as well as effective. The ability and desire to provide a staff dedicated to the compassionate support of families during their time of need shows Milton S. Hershey Medical Center remains steadfast in its efforts to provide essential support during a time of immediate need.

Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Decedent Care Office: A strong foundation of committed service.