The family of Richard “Dick” Meredith, a mental health institute patient in Iowa who died last year at the age of 82, was told by medical staff that Meredith was killed by a heart attack. But according to a report by the Des Moines Register, officials misled the family about Meredith’s death. Relatives later discovered that Meredith actually died after staff mistakenly fed him a peanut butter sandwich, which he wasn’t supposed to have because he had trouble swallowing.

According to the report, On Sept. 1, 2013, Meredith was found dead at a dining table at Clarinda Mental Health Institute in Iowa. His windpipe was clogged with peanut butter and the staff was unable to revive him.

While Meredith’s family was told he had a “choking episode” earlier in the day, they were made to believe he had recovered from it and that he later died of a heart attack. But an investigation by inspectors into the incident told a different story.

The inspectors’ account appeared in a Nov. 22, 2013, article in the Des Moines Register. The story reported that the facility was fined $8,250 for giving a peanut butter sandwich to a patient whose diet was limited to pureed food by a doctor because the patient had trouble swallowing.

“On the day his meal was distributed, dietary staff distributed sack lunches and failed to use dietary cards and tags when filling resident trays,” the article noted. The article made no mention of Meredith’s name, but when his family came across the article, they knew it was about him.

According to the Associated Press, Dana Vasey, Meredith’s niece, made several calls to the institute before they admitted it was her uncle. Now, the family wants justice, and is considering a lawsuit.  

“I don’t understand why they’re doing all this dancing around. It would be so much easier to do the right thing,” Vasey told the Des Moines Register. “If they had told the truth about the mistake that caused [his] death, I think I would have accepted it. Basically, until this happened, I was pleased with the way they were caring for him.”

She added: "It was like he was a throwaway -- just a mental patient who'd spent almost his whole life in an institution, so who cares?"

When inspectors questions the institute about Meredith’s choking incident, they were told that staff had “just forgot” to properly label the residents’ meals.

“This was an isolated incident, and we took immediate steps to ensure that policies are followed and strengthened to guarantee safe meal service to all patients,” DHS Director Charles M. Palmer said in a statement after the news of Meredith’s real cause of death aired in November. “We have taken appropriate personnel action, and we continue monitoring the facility and working closely with the Department of Inspections and Appeals to make adjustments.”

When contacted for a comment, a spokeswoman for the health department declined to discuss the case. “We realize this may displease some individuals or families, but we believe it’s important for all Iowans we serve to trust that DHS will protect their confidentiality and not play out their individual circumstances in the press,” she told the Des Moines Register.