The family of a South Carolina woman is calling foul after she died last month, and her death certificate cited the coronavirus as a contributing factor.
Joan Hill, a 79-year-old woman who lived with her daughter and was on hospice care with dementia, died in her home on July 31 in Richland County, South Carolina, WIS-TV reported.
Now, her family is wondering why a doctor listed “COVID-19 complications” as one of the causes of death.
They are also asking for help to find out if Hill was counted as a local COVID-19 death statistic.
Hill’s granddaughter, Kimberly Klosterman, told WIS that Hill had no coronavirus symptoms, and was breathing perfectly fine.
“That was wrong. She had never been tested before or after death, so I wasn’t sure how that could even be listed on her death certificate,” Klosterman told the outlet.
Klosterman further explained that the rest of the family had been tested for the coronavirus and that all had tested negative.
“She was breathing fine; that was the last thing to go for her,” Hill’s granddaughter said. “Her lung function was good up until the very end, so there were zero symptoms of COVID whatsoever.”
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts, who is required to respond to deaths which occur outside of hospitals, was informed of Hill’s death immediately upon her passing.
Watts told the outlet he deferred signing Hill’s death certificate over to her doctor with the hospice care provider, a company called Amedisys.
A doctor with that company was the one who signed the document that listed “Alzheimer’s disease” and “COVID-19 complications” as her causes of death.
No autopsy was performed on Hill’s body, which was transported straight from Hill’s daughter’s home to a funeral home, Klosterman said.
“When we took the call originally, it was a patient with Alzheimer’s — nothing was mentioned about COVID-19 at that time,” Watts told WIS.
“It’s certainly something that needs to be answered as to why that happened, and who made that decision, and why that decision was made if there was no indication at the time of death,” he added.
“I think the family deserves an answer. I think all of us deserve an answer.”
Klosterman said that when she reached out to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the agency would not say if her grandmother was included in the state’s official coronavirus death count.
She also wants to assure people that she is not trying to discredit the severity of the coronavirus, but is simply seeking answers.
“I am very aware that COVID is real,” she told WIS.
“I’ve known people that have had it, that have been hospitalized for it, that have passed away from it — but to have a report come back and say that that’s what my grandmother passed away from when she was never even tested, had no symptoms, it’s just devastating,” she said.
WIS joined Hill’s family in the search for answers.
The outlet reported it had “reached out to DHEC to find out if Mrs. Hill’s death was listed in their daily totals, and a spokesperson sent a statement saying they can’t answer that because they cannot comment on specific deaths or cases due to privacy restrictions.”
But her family says she never even had it!
So how is it listed as a #coronavirus death?
— Dawndy Mercer Plank (@DawndyWISTV) August 13, 2020
But the DHEC’s statement on Hill’s death did not provide much by way of answers.
“Please know that DHEC can’t comment in detail on individual deaths or cases due to privacy restrictions. While DHEC is the official state record-keeper of vital statistics information, DHEC doesn’t have a role in determining a cause of death; that’s determined by a medical certifier (which can be a physician, advanced practice registered nurse or coroner) who, for COVID-19, uses the latest CDC guidance,” the health agency told WIS.
“We’re unable to confirm at this time that a DHEC employee recommended anything other than referring to the current CDC guidance,” the DHEC also said.
Amedisys also released a statement on Hill’s reported cause of death.
“Amedisys takes great pride in our commitment to patients and the hospice care we provide,” the company told WIS.
“Please understand that due to federal laws that protect the privacy of patient information, we cannot provide you with the details regarding this situation, other than we acted in accordance with the Coroner’s Office and followed clinical protocols.
“Our top priority now — and always — is taking care of our patients and their families to ensure they receive the highest quality hospice care.”
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