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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: April 22, 2020 04:04 PM
From: Senator Judy Ward
To: All Senate members
Subject: Reporting of COVID-19 Deaths to Coroners
I am introducing legislation amending the County Code to make clear that all deaths in a county suspected of COVID-19 shall be referred to the county coroner for investigation.
Under current law, the coroner shall investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding a death that appears to have happened in the county in various cases, including a death known or suspected to be due to contagious disease and constituting a public hazard. However, these cases are not being reported to the county coroner. The Department of Health (DOH) is interpreting a provision of the law (the coroner having a view of the body) narrowly that unless coroners have a view of the body they do not need to be notified of a death from contagious disease.  As such, coroners would not be notified of deaths within their County if the person died from natural causes, such as COVID-19, within a hospital or facility. This is detrimental to the community and to emergency planning efforts.
To make matters worse, it is my understanding that the COVID-19 death certificates and other coroner death certificates are being held up by DOH Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) staff for days and even weeks until they determine if these are coroner cases. This is NOT the job of the EDRS staff. Coroners, Physicians, PA’s and CRNP’s are by law to certify the cause of death and complete the death certificate. By holding up death certificates, they are impacting families and funeral directors who are unable to move forward with disposition of the deceased, or open an estate, or file a claim for insurance benefits. The EDRS staff have no right to determine what deaths are to be certified by Coroners or not.
My measure would remove the phrase “having a view of the body” and make clear that any possible COVID-19 deaths must be reported to the coroner for investigation.
Because of these actions, there is minimal accuracy of reporting of the COVID-19 deaths. Deaths are being certified as COVID-19 without testing and presumed COVID-19. 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 well-being of our communities.
Please join me in co-sponsoring this important measure.

Introduced as SB1164