More than half a million COVID-related deaths have been reported in the United States.
While the death toll attributed to the pandemic has been devastating, one South Florida family says their father didn’t die from COVID complications but his death certificate says otherwise.
Nelson Linares’ family told NBC 6 Investigators the 78-year-old died on Nov. 30 after being hospitalized for almost a month fighting what was believed to be pneumonia.
“They admitted him to the hospital. They said that he was very short of breath, so they were going to do some treatment, everything…but first he had to have a COVID test,” said his son Nelson Linares Jr.
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Records from Hialeah Hospital show that COVID-19 test came back negative as did a second one Mr. Linares took after he was released and re-admitted Nov. 4.
Nelson told NBC 6 when his father died, his sister and stepmother were allowed to say goodbye in person.
“They sat there in the room for three hours,” he said. “So they were in a regular room with another patient next to them.”
Nelson said that’s something the hospital wouldn’t allow if his father had COVID.
That’s why Nelson said he was confused when he saw his father's death certificate weeks later, which states that he died of COVID Pneumonia.
Looking for answers, Nelson got copies of his father’s hospitalization records.
“Nowhere in the medical record it says that he had COVID,” he said.
Then, Nelson said he realized he didn’t recognize the name of the doctor who signed the death certificate so he called him.
He said Dr. Manuel Garcia-Frangie, who signed the death certificate, told him his father was not his patient.
“He said ‘I don’t know how his medical records got on my desk,’” Nelson said.
Nelson said Garcia-Frangie told him he would look into it, but days went by and he didn’t hear back so he called the NBC 6 Investigators for help.
When we contacted Dr. Manuel Garcia-Frangie, he confirmed he wasn’t Mr. Linares’ doctor. He went on to say he “had a patient with a similar last name” adding that he “confused it with somebody else” and that “...it was an honest mistake.”
So how did the death certificate end up at Dr. Garcia-Frangie’s office if he wasn’t Mr. Linares’ doctor? NBC 6 Investigators asked the doctor who really treated him and the hospital.
Dr. Alfredo Dally, who treated Linares, told us he retired from the hospital in December and was replaced by Dr. Garcia-Frangie.
A spokesperson from Hialeah Hospital told us, “Independent physicians in a group help manage patients for each other. It is customary for the doctor who is covering to be added to the medical record.”
That may explain why Mr. Linares’ medical records show Garcia-Frangie as the “attending provider” when he wasn’t. That’s information that would likely be given to the funeral home when they ask the hospital who they should send the death certificate to for a cause of death.
NBC 6 found that in order to correct the certificate, Nelson must ask the doctor who really treated his father to fill out an amendment, something he told us he’ll do.
“I want a death certificate that says exactly what my dad died of,” Nelson said.
Hialeah Hospital also told NBC 6 they let the family and the doctor resolve any discrepancies.
The federal government told us that under the CARES Act, a hospital could receive additional Medicare dollars for a patient with COVID-19 but we don’t know if that’s what happened here.