COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – A Lexington County woman is seeking answers as to why her grandmother’s death certificate lists COVID-19 complications as a cause of death, when she says her grandmother never died test for the virus and never showed symptoms.
Now the family has turned to WIS to investigate why a hospice doctor wrote off on this, and whether or not the death of their loved one was counted in the daily deaths of the department of health and environmental control.
Kimberly Klosterman says her 79-year-old grandmother, Joan Hill, has suffered from dementia for several years.
She moved in with Klosterman’s mother in Richland County in January and received hospice care at the home of Amedisys in Western Columbia until she died on July 31 in her daughter’s home.
The following week, Klosterman and her family were shocked and shocked when they received Hill’s death certificate, which showed Alzheimer’s disease and complications of COVID-19 as her cause of death.
‘That was wrong. She had never been tested before or after death, so I was not sure how that could even be mentioned on her death certificate, ”explained Klosterman, who says her entire family was tested for the virus a few weeks in advance and all received negative results.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts was called on July 31 to respond to the death of Mrs. Hill, who is required to die when someone dies outside a hospital.
“When you (WIS) contacted me, it was the first time we were made aware that something had been reported to COVID,” Watts said. “When we originally took the call, it was a patient with Alzheimer’s – nothing was mentioned about COVID-19 at the time.”
He also explained that the coroner is not required to report on a death certificate of someone in hospice care, and that was done by an Amedisys doctor.
“It’s certain what needs to be answered about why that happened, and who made that decision, and why that decision was made when there was no indication at the time of death,” Watts said. ‘I think the family deserves an answer. I think we all deserve an answer. ”
Klosterman says her grandmother did not have an autopsy, and her body was transported directly from her mother’s home to the funeral.
‘They breathe fine; that was the last thing that happened to her, “said Klosterman. “Her lung function was good until the very end, so there were zero symptoms of COVID.”
WIS reached out to DHEC to find out if Ms. Hill’s death was reported in her daily total, and a spokeswoman sent a statement saying she could not respond because she could not comment on specific deaths or cases due to privacy restrictions. (Read the full statement from the agency at the bottom of this story.)
The agency also stated that a confirmed COVID-19 death requires a viral test, while a probable death is one whose death certificate cites COVID-19 as a major cause of death, but that person has not undergone an actual test.
Based on that information, Mrs. Hill’s death could have been included in the probable death count – but WIS does not know for sure at this time.
When Klosterman also reached out to DHEC to ask if her grandmother’s death was counted in total, the agency refused to respond, saying Amedisys would have to respond.
WIS asked Amedisys why a doctor signed up for a death certificate that reported COVID-19 complications without giving patient a viral test. They issued a statement saying they acted in accordance with the coroner’s office and followed clinical protocols. (Read her full statement at the end of this story.)
But Klosterman and her family still want answers, and most of all they want to make sure Joan Hill is not mentioned as a South Carolina COVID-19 death.
“I’m very aware that COVID is real,” Klosterman said. ‘I have known people who have had it, who have been hospitalized for it, who have died there – but to return a report and say that this is where my grandmother died when she never even tested, had no symptoms, it’s just devastating. ”
WIS takes any allegation seriously regarding issues with the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported, and considers all of them. This is the first time that WIS has been made aware of a discrepancy in the figures where there has been evidence to make the accusation.
DHEC’s full statement:
“Please note that DHEC cannot comment in detail on individual deaths or cases due to privacy restrictions. While DHEC is the official state record holder of life statistics information, DHEC has no role in determining a cause of death; this is determined by a medical certificate (which may be a doctor, registered nurse with advanced practice) or who, for COVID-19, uses the latest CDC guidance.
“We are unable to confirm at this time that a DHEC staff member would be advised otherwise than to refer to the current CDC guidance.
DHEC performs cross-analyzes from the initial information on a death that is reported directly to the agency by medical certifiers to the information that is later submitted to the agency on the official death certificate of the individual to ensure that it matches , and we reach for the medical certificate in there is a discrepancy. DHEC works to protect general public health and monitor overall disease coverage, but the agency does not oversee individual patient care and could not provide medical advice for one individual.
Amedisys’ full statement:
“Amedisys is proud of our commitment to patients and the hospice care we provide. Please understand that due to federal laws protecting the privacy of patient information, we are unable to provide you with the details regarding this situation, other than that we act in accordance with the Coroner’s Office and follow clinical protocols. Our main priority now – and always – is to take care of our patients and their families to ensure that they receive the highest quality hospice care. ”
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