HARRISBURG – Legislation that would improve transparency and eliminate inconsistencies in how COVID-19 deaths are being reported in Pennsylvania earned the approval of the Senate this week, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Judy Ward (R-30).
Senate Bill 1164 would ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths in their jurisdiction caused by this virus and other contagious diseases that constitute a health emergency.
State law requires county coroners to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding any death – including those due to contagious disease – except in cases of death by natural causes. However, many coroners are not being notified of suspected COVID-19 deaths in hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities because the Department of Health is interpreting the law differently.
This leads to discrepancies between the number of COVID-19 deaths reported by the Department of Health and the number reported by county coroners, creating confusion among the general public.
“We can’t have two different sets of numbers of deaths from COVID-19. These reporting discrepancies throw a wrench into every community’s efforts to plan for emergencies,” Ward said. “All COVID-19 deaths should be reported to the coroners and medical examiners not only to ensure accurate reporting of the deaths, but also for the safety and wellbeing of our communities.”
“This bill will serve to protect the residents of Pennsylvania and especially EMS, law enforcement and other first responders who have contact with decedents who may have died from contagious diseases which constitute a public hazard. Reporting these deaths to the coroners and medical examiners will increase the accuracy of the death data,” said Charles E. Kiessling, Jr., Lycoming County Coroner and President of the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association. “Their boots-on-the-ground working relationships with their local physicians and other medical certifiers will provide more detailed information regarding each of these deaths, rather than just the information placed in the electronic death registry system or on a death certificate.”