ARE ALASKA DEATHS MISREPORTED? REP. VANCE WANTS ANSWERS
When Donald VanBuren died at South Peninsula Hospital, his death was listed as a COVID-19 death.
It turns out, the neighbors in Anchor Point knew better: The 90-year-old was dying with a body riddled with cancer and kidney failure. And yet, a test for COVID-19 came back positive, and so COVID-19 it is, at least on his death certificate.
VanBuren lived among a small settlement of homes down a dead-end road in Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula, and his neighbors kept an eye on him and helped him as much as he would allow, which wasn’t much. He had hardly any interaction with people recently, except a caregiver, who has tested negative for the coronavirus, according to sources.
To the neighbors’ knowledge, he has no family in the state, and mainly he just kept to himself as cancer took its toll. It appears he has distant relatives in other states, and once owned a business called Anchor Point Supply, but he’s been sick for some time and living alone.
Rep. Sarah Vance has called for an inquiry as to why VanBuren’s passing was listed as a COVID-19 death, when everyone in the area knew he was dying, and his only coronavirus symptom was “fatigue.” Neighbors say he was fatigued with cancer and kidney failure and plain-old “old age.”
Vance says that with no family around to raise questions, and with medical privacy laws as they are, the community is left to wonder what happened that made this death uniquely COVID, since he doesn’t seem to have contracted it from anyone.
Vance has written to the State’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink to ask for answers about the true cause of VanBuren’s death.
“What is the difference between dying with COVID-19 and dying of/from COVID-19?” Vance asked Zink in her letter. “What guidelines do physicians have in attributing the cause of death to COVID-19?”
She also wants to know if Alaska’s hospitals are being financially rewarded for reporting deaths attributed to the coronavirus, and what the state’s role is in confirming the information.
The matter came to light on Facebook, when a woman who lives nearby wrote that VanBuren had been dying of cancer and that she believes the death has been wrongly reported as a COVID-19 death.
“Just want this to be clear. I know this for a fact. It is not hearsay,” the neighbor wrote. “They tested him at the hospital, even though he had no symptoms, and he tested positive. But he died due to cancer and kidney failure.”
VanBuren was the 10th Alaskan to die whose death was attributed to COVID-19. Two of those deaths occurred while Alaskans were out of state, and the other eight died in Alaska. But if one of those deaths is not truly from COVID-19, it would be a reporting inaccuracy rate of 12.5 percent, something Rep. Vance believes deserves closer scrutiny.
Across the country, questions have been asked, but few answers have been satisfactory about why some people who are dying, and yet test positive for COVID-19, are listed as deaths from the coronavirus.
The federal guidance for those filling out death certificates specifies: “COVID-19 should be reported on the death certificate for all decedents where the disease caused or is assumed to have caused or contributed to the death.”