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Justice: 168 deaths not reported

CHARLESTON — The state of West Virginia is trying to learn why 168 COVID-19 deaths were not reported, officials said Wednesday.

Gov. Jim Justice during his pandemic briefing said 168 deaths were unreported to the state and most were in hospitals, hospice groups, long-term care facilities and two in the correctional system. The total is 7.2 percent of the 2,330 deaths attributed to the virus in West Virginia since the pandemic began.

Justice, who said he learned of the number of non-reported deaths only 45 minutes before the briefing began Wednesday morning, was upset. He plans to read the entire list of 168 people on Friday during a pandemic briefing.

“It’s just plain awful, awful,” he said.

Administration officials and the Department of Health and Human Resources will investigate why there was a time lag for deaths to be reported, according to Justice. If it was a problem on the state side, “I’ll really not be happy with that either,” Justice said.

About 30 counties around the state were involved, mostly hospitals and nursing homes, Dr. Ayne Amjad, health officer and Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, said during the briefing. Around 30 were unreported from Kanawha County, Justice said.

Each of the facilities will be contacted, Amjad said. Reporting protocols were established in April 2020, she said.

“These protocols are in place so we can accurately report COVID-19 deaths,” she said.

The information was reported to the DHHR late Friday after a check of death certificates, Amjad said.

Almost two dozen of the 168 COVID-19 coronavirus deaths are from facilities in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Department of Health and Human Resources released Wednesday afternoon after the briefing.

WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center was included with 12 unreported deaths. It was the highest number among individual hospitals, but three divisions of Charleston Area Medical Center had a total of at least 15 unreported deaths, according to the information from the department.

A statement from Camden Clark was requested and the hospital said WVU Medicine is referring inquiries to the West Virginia Hospital Association because of all the hospitals involved.

“Like others in West Virginia, today we learned of unreported COVID-19 related deaths by hospitals and other facilities across the state. It is unfortunate that this reporting error occurred during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in December and January,” Jim Kaufman, president and CEO of the association, said. “The process the state has put in place that led to today’s announcement demonstrates the close partnership between the state and hospitals in responding to this pandemic. Today’s announcement provides an important opportunity to ensure accurate reporting in the future. We thank our healthcare workers for their hard work and express sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.”

The DHHR said in its release that more than 65 healthcare facilities including hospitals, nursing homes and others did not follow the COVID-19 death reporting protocols established by the State Health Officer. The department’s Bureau for Public Health through the Health Statistics Center conducted a bi-weekly examination to match COVID-19 associated deaths reported through death certificates that found 168 related deaths were not reported to the department.

“These reporting protocols were established early in the pandemic and we’ve continued to remind facilities of these requirements,” Amjad said in the release. “This practice is totally unacceptable, and these facilities must do better for the people of West Virginia.”

Eighty-four percent of the deaths were from December 2020 and January 2021, meeting the standard timeframe in death certificate reporting, the department said.

“DHHR will continue to assure that the data provided to the public and others is accurate and complete to the extent possible,” department Secretary Bill J. Crouch said. “Our commitment to transparency has not changed and we reaffirm that commitment again today.”

The deaths will be reported on the state’s coronavirus dashboard Friday.

The release and list is at https://dhhr.wv.gov/News/2021/Pages/DHHR-Discovers-Unreported-COVID-19-Related-Deaths-by-Healthcare-Facilities.aspx.

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