LINCOLN COUNTY, Mo. – In a 7-month FOX 2 investigation, we’ve followed the trail of a death reported to be COVID that turned out not to be. The victim’s son reached out to FOX 2 in June 2020.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services now acknowledges this death certificate was filled out in error. It lists a cause of death as COVID when it wasn’t.
Suzann Koehler died last May, not long after breaking her hip.
“My mom was my best friend,” said Gregg Jolliff, Koehler’s son. “We were attached to the hip, you could say.”
Jolliff insists his mother did not die of COVID-19.
“I honestly don’t know what my mom passed away from. I’ve been told eight different causes of death,” he said.
Jolliff contacted FOX 2 in June, showing us the death certificate that lists COVID, along with “sepsis” and “hypoxic respiratory failure.”
Jolliff asked us to keep his privacy at that time until he got answers from doctors.
“All this started to change when I started to question,” he said.
In October, Jolliff said he reached the doctor who filled out his mother’s death certificate.
“She called me and said, ‘Oh, your mom didn’t die of COVID,’ was the first thing she said to me, which I thought was a little odd,” he said.
Jolliff said she told him he’d get an updated death certificate. He waited.
Meanwhile, FOX 2 asked Dr. Bob Farmer, a 20-year veteran of family medicine and recent medical director for an Illinois hospital group, to review Koehler’s medical record.
“It became obvious to me in this case that a mistake was made,” he said.
Farmer said the medical record doesn’t indicate COVID, so the death certificate also should not.
“There’s no evidence of ill intention here and, at the end of the day, I think a simple mistake was made probably due to our health care forces being overworked and overwhelmed,” he said.
SSM Hospital System could not discuss Koehler’s case because of privacy, but a spokesman confirmed Medicare billing is based on the hospital record and not the death certificate.
That death certificate was finally updated Dec. 11, 2020. Jolliff got the copy just last week.
“I think it took you pushing to finally get a response and then they called me and said, ‘We’re sending it out today,’ and I got it three days later,” he said.
The updated record lists different causes of death including, “acute blood loss” and “moderate to severe protein calorie malnutrition.”
“I’ve got so many unanswered questions and the main one is I would just like to know the truth and it’s hard when you have eight different causes of death,” Jolliff said.
FOX 2 asked the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services if the death certificate change is reflected in the COVID numbers. A spokesman said numbers are regularly updated with both additions and subtractions, depending on changing and updated records. In this case, the spokesperson said Koehler’s record was never added to the COVID totals to begin with because she was never COVID tested.
Here’s what the spokesperson wrote to us in response:
The matches we do weekly not only add cases but subtract them also. But, this death would have never appeared on the dashboard since there was no PCR test. Dashboard death totals require the PCR result AND the U.071 code on the death file.Missouri Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson
Jolliff said he will continue trying to get answers about how his mother died. In the meantime, he’s set up a GoFundMe page hoping to bury his mother in a plot next to his father, who died when he was a child.