Michigan man wants mother's death certificate changed after hospital listed COVID-19 despite negative test

Posted at 8:13 PM, Oct 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 22:28:25-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A West Michigan man is trying to make a change to his mother’s death certificate but says the doctor and hospital involved will not do it.

His mother went into the hospital back in May, tested negative for the coronavirus, and then died a few days later. That's why he's questioning the word “COVID” appearing on her death certificate.

“To me it’s not morally right,” said Pete Van Vugt, “it’s a moral question and it’s not morally right.”

Van Vugt tells FOX 17 he’s not happy with Metro Health. His mother Esther, 91, had been living at Byron Center Manor for nearly six years.

Esther, a former missionary who once lived in Nigeria, loved people and flowers. On May 21st she ended up in the hospital for breathing problems and then a few days later her doctor contacted the family.

“He called us on Sunday night and said ‘your mom’s gonna pass away so you can come in with four of you now’ but with the COVID they normally wouldn’t let you in there,” said Van Vugt.

That’s why he’s so confused. His mother had a double lung infection with pneumonia, but her COVID test that was provided to FOX 17, shows she tested negative for the virus the day she was admitted to the hospital.

Four days later when she died, “presumed COVID” appeared on her death certificate and now her son wants it gone.

“Then we went to the funeral home and the undertaker said ‘did your mom die of the covid’, I said no, he thought maybe she could have it but she tested negative and it was on there. So that’s what upset me about it.”

Pete then called the hospital trying to get an answer.

“So that’s the thing that troubles me is they will not take the COVID-19 off her death certificate. You cannot bring her back but there’s still the idea – you only have one mother and to put the COVID on when it actually wasn’t I think they just juice their numbers up to get more money,” he said.

In fact, providers are reimbursed for the treatment and care of COVID patients. That’s why Pete thinks they even listed the virus on her death certificate.

Metro Health sent Pete a letter saying it's looked into the matter and “found that the medical care delivered, and documentation was appropriate”, adding, “you were also able to speak with our Chief Medical Officer... regarding your concerns of teh documentation on the death certification and why there was not a second COVID-19 test prior to your mom’s passing.”

“I said yea, why could you not do a second test? I said I would’ve paid for that and the thing is she’s in a home. She was eating with these women and playing cards with these women. We went back there more than a week later – nobody got sick there, nobody.”

In a statement to FOX 17, Chief Medical Officer at Metro Health, Dr. Ronald Grifka, said:

“When listing a cause of death, Metro Health providers are guided by their medical knowledge and the guidelines set forth by applicable authorities, which includes both the federal and state government. With COVID-19, there have been a number of guidelines set forth by these authorities and we incorporate them into our management. Using reimbursement implications to guide a decision is medically inappropriate and would not be considered.”

“Yea I’m not sure what my next step would be. Let it go or live with it and make the best of it I’m not sure,” said Van Vugt.

Pete still doesn’t understand the hospital’s decision but says he also contacted his state representative saying the whole situation just isn't morally right.