Health officials respond to aftermath of unreported COVID-19 deaths

West Virginia

EASTERN PANHANDLE, W. Va. (WDVM) — On Wednesday, it was revealed that 70 health care facilities across the state of West Virginia failed to report almost 200 COVID-related deaths. Four of those facilities are in the Eastern Panhandle. The state is now addressing the fallout of the shocking announcement.

Jim Kaufman, the CEO and President of the West Virginia Hospital Association released a statement regarding the incident.

“It is unfortunate that this reporting error occurred during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in December and January. Today’s announcement provides an important opportunity to ensure accurate reporting in the future.”

Maria Lorensen, the Development Director at Hospice of the Panhandle, and other staff were stunned to learn that they were on the list of unreported COVID deaths.

“We were surprised to say the least to see this and to see the scope,” Lorensen explained. “We immediately got to work and tried to discern how that really happened and then this morning went through basically months worth of records.”

An internal investigation is being conducted on the incident, but State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad doesn’t believe that there is any reason to question other data reported to the state. Dr. Amjad explained that the epidemiology unit has reached out to all of the facilities on the list to try and determine a cause.

Dr. Amjad also had a number of questions herself and wondered whether the high number of unreported deaths were due to lack of staffing at the facilities, human error, or failure to submit the form altogether. She did highlight that the Department of Health and Human Resources aims to assist these facilities especially as they have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for the last year.

“That kind of information doesn’t require so much human input where you have to fill out forms,” Dr. Amjad stated. “Those are things like nasal swabs where you have to input through a lab and so forth. So that kind of information is not like this where you have to reconcile two things or requires two different parts to submit.

Dr. Amjad and her team are actively working to prevent another incident from occurring in the future. However, she stressed that the form for submitting a COVID-related death was implemented to make the process quick and easy for users to notify the proper agencies of a COVID-related death.

“Death certificates are hard because we can’t shorten that time frame [of receiving the certificate] but we are going to see if we can change that to electronic,” Dr. Amjad explained. “We’re probably just going to try to reach out to facilities a little bit more avidly and see what their issues are and just make people more accountable.”

Dr. Amjad also stated that COVID data will be collected and reviewed on a weekly basis instead of the previous bi-weekly collection and review process.

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