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No deliberate intent to report inaccurate COVID-19 deaths, investigation finds

The state’s investigation into why more than 150 COVID-19 deaths went unreported found there was no intent by any reporting authority to deliberately provide inaccurate information to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Gov. Jim Justice said in early March 169 deaths related to COVID19 went unreported by health care providers throughout the state and called for an investigation.

“Due to the lag time to prepare, submit and issue a West Virginia death certificate, it is not possible, today to use a death certificate for near real-time reporting of a COVID-19 death,” Justice said in a release. “But this all has got to be changed, and we have to do it right now.”

The joint investigation was conducted by the state DHHR and the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security.

Investigators conducted more than 50 interviews and spent more than 1,000 hours on the case.

Findings from the report show:

  • There were no missing death certificates.
  • Not every death certificate listed the virus as the cause of death or as a contributing factor.
  • COVID-19 deaths were reported two ways; regular death certificates and COVID-19 Death Report Forms, the forms local health care providers are required to submit to the local health department. The report also noted this issue has come up in Ohio and Kentucky.
  • Both county health department and health care providers were overwhelmed by the pandemic.
  • Hospice and home reporting requirements were not clear, and there were uncertainties about what was a COVID-19 death.

As a result of the unreported deaths, Justice said Wednesday during his regular COVID-19 media briefing that West Virginia will be investing in an electronic reporting system for deaths. West Virginia is one of the few states that does not do this electronically, Justice said.

“We probably didn’t need that in West Virginia until we got into the pandemic,” he said. “But now that we’ve gotten into this situation, our people at DHHR should’ve recognized this and moved. They didn’t move and I am not happy about that. But I can tell you that it is clear there was not intent to report incorrect data.”