Man’s death wrongly recorded as COVID death, UF Health responds

The man’s family was told he tested negative for COVID-19 but his death certificate said otherwise
Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 7:28 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - A family in North Central Florida is demanding answers after their father’s passing was falsely labeled as a COVID-19 death.

This comes after he died just a few weeks ago at UF Health Shands.

Bill Horne owned a photography studio in Gainesville for over 50 years.

“This is how people in Gainesville remember my father," his daughter Pam said, referring to a picture of her father when he was younger, "with a dark mustache, dark hair, and a camera in his hand.”

But over the past few years, her father’s health began to deteriorate. Last October, he suffered a stroke just two weeks after being diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer.

Pam and her brother Randy were contacted by UF Health Shands on September 2nd.

“They said listen," Randy said, "we have your father here ... you probably have to come to Gainesville to say your goodbyes.”

Pam and Randy say more medical issues began to surface and Bill ended up being put on life support. The family was told he would not survive. They were left with one option.

“As soon as they took the respirator out, he was gone,” Pam said.

What followed after saying their goodbyes was something they say they remember vividly.

“I had specifically asked the ICU nurse," Pam said, "I said ‘was daddy tested for COVID?’ and she said ‘oh of course. If he had tested positive, he wouldn’t be here'.”

A few days later, after an autopsy was conducted, the family received the death certificate. Pam opened it on the day of the funeral.

“I looked and it said: Cause Of Death: COVID-19 pneumonia ... and I just screamed."

“My sister calls me," Randy said, "she goes Randy ... you’re not going to believe this ... they listed daddy’s death as COVID-19. I said 'you’ve got to be s******* me, COVID-19?!”

They immediately reached out to staff at UF Health Shands. They were told it was a mistake made in the paperwork. Randy and Pam said they were skeptical since they were told specifically that their father had tested negative several times for COVID-19.

“I said ‘you tell me why COVID-19 was listed as his cause of death’ ... they said ‘Mr. Horne, I assure you this wasn’t for corporate profits,’ ... I said 'nah, I don’t think so ... because if you are on a ventilator, and a patient on Medicare ... the government pays the hospital $30,000 if a patient dies of COVID-19.”

TV20 reached out to UF Health Shands for comment. This was their response:

"We recently learned that due to a clerical error, the incorrect cause of death was listed on the death certificate for one of our patients. We have also learned this information has been shared by the patient’s family on social media and with other interested media. Such errors are extremely rare. We immediately corrected the mistake and sent the updated document to the funeral home last week. We apologize and continue to extend our sympathy to the family.

Death certificates are filed electronically by medical examiner’s offices or funeral homes and sent to the Bureau of Vital Statistics at the Florida Department of Health. If a death certificate is amended, the change is made in paper form and a physician is required to sign off on it. The updated version is then sent to the medical examiner or funeral home, whose responsibility it is to mail it to the state.

Federal assistance to hospitals across the country is contingent on multiple patient-specific factors. Death certificates are never filled out to artificially bolster any federal assistance that UF Health receives; in fact, Medicare reimbursement is based on coding from medical records during treatment, not on what appears on a death certificate."

The family said they have been told they will receive amended death certificates. We reached out to the Alachua County Health Department. They said if the death was determined to be a COVID-19-related death, it will be accounted as such in the county’s COVID-19 death count.

Copyright 2020 WCJB. All rights reserved.