MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Health Director tried to explain how the health department sent a letter to a dead woman, saying she was COVID-19 positive.
It was a mistake. The never woman never had COVID.
Her son, Troy Whittington, told the Local I-Team this latest explanation from the director just added to his confusion.
"If everybody remembers way back in February, tests were actually sent to the Center for Disease Control for confirmation. So that specimen was subsequently sent to Atlanta and read out sometime late in June.Ultimately it was reported to us through the system as a positive test,” said Shelby County Health Director Alisa Haushalter.
That was Haushalter’s explanation of what happened.
66-year-old Sandra Whittington died in February of this year of COPD. Last week, her son opened up a letter addressed to his mom. It was written in August and said she was COVID-19 positive and needed to isolate.
Troy Whittington said when he called the health department, he was told the test took place in June - four months after her death.
"I'm just having a hard time understanding how they can say someone has COVID-19 when they are not even alive," said Troy Whittington.
Late Thursday, we learned the research lab had closed in March because of the coronavirus. When it reopened in May, it had a private lab conduct COVID-19 test on Sandra Whittington's remains, and the test results were sent to the state.
Troy Whittington said last week, Director Haushalter told him the state of Tennessee did the original COVID-19 test and then sent it off to the CDC, where a second test determined it was a false positive. Whittington is skeptical because he said no one will give him any specific dates.
According to the letter Director Haushalter sent to Whittington, "There were internal procedures regarding post-mortem testing by the Tennessee Department of Health that resulted in a positive test being reported to the Shelby County Health Department. Subsequently, the Shelby County Health Department issued the letter and you should not have received the letter."
"Our team members have a protocol, so as soon as they received a call for a positive test, that case gets put in the system for contract tracing as well as notification. The individual who received the report did not double check the system to see the person was deceased," said Haushalter.
She added, "I did follow up with the family to make sure that they understood that the error was really multiple parts of the system, but ultimately we communicated with the family so the error was on our part and we apologized for that.”
She went on to say, "The notification goes to the state health department, and then from the state health department to us. So it did come into us initially as a positive report and that notice came from the state health department - and their notice came from the Centers For Disease Control."
Director Haushalter said they have a significant number of new employees at the health department and they’re doing additional training with them so this won't happen again.
Whittington understands mistakes can happen but he wonders if he will ever get the bottom of what happened.
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health confirmed a private lab conducted the test, but referred all questions to Shelby County Health Department.