HARRISBURG – Senator Judy Ward (R-30) has introduced legislation that would help clear up inconsistencies in how COVID-19 deaths are being reported in Pennsylvania and ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths caused by the virus within their area of jurisdiction.
State law requires county coroners to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding various cases of deaths – that includes 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.
“We can’t have two different sets of numbers. These reporting discrepancies throw a wrench into every community’s efforts to plan for this emergency, and it calls into question whether the numbers we see every day are accurate,” Ward said. “All COVID-19 deaths should be reported to the coroners and medical examiners for more accurate reporting of the deaths and for the safety and wellbeing of our communities.”
The department believes that corners do not have to be notified of COVID-19 deaths based on a narrow provision of the law that requires coroners to have a view of the body. Ward’s bill would remove this language from the law and clarify that any possible COVID-19 deaths must be reported to coroners for investigation.
A number of coroners in the region have voiced support for Ward’s proposal.
“Coroners are particularly well suited to handle these investigations because they have built relationships with physicians, county officials, and first responders, and can track community spread, and build an accurate death count,” Fulton County Coroner Berley Souders said.
“Any death that’s known or suspected to be due to contagious disease and constitutes a public hazard needs to be reported to the coroner,” Cumberland County Coroner Charles Hall said.
“It is important that the Department of Health follow the law that coroners have been following for years,” Franklin County Coroner Jeff Conner said.
The Blair and Huntingdon County Coroner’s have also expressed support for the proposal, and it is endorsed by the Pennsylvania Coroners Association.
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