COVID exposure or death?

An increase in natural deaths suggests residents died after refusing to seek medical care

By Allison Marlow
Posted 10/8/21

The number of deaths in Baldwin County caused by delayed medical care reached its peak in August, said Dr. Brian Pierce, Baldwin County Coroner.

The office usually attends to 30 natural deaths …

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COVID exposure or death?

An increase in natural deaths suggests residents died after refusing to seek medical care

Posted

The number of deaths in Baldwin County caused by delayed medical care reached its peak in August, said Dr. Brian Pierce, Baldwin County Coroner.

The office usually attends to 30 natural deaths each month. In August 2021, the office tended to 79 deaths caused by natural causes. Dr. Pierce said many of those deaths appear to be caused by the departed delaying their medical care. The bulk of the deaths were related to cardiac issues.

“These are older individuals who were either doing telemedicine or weren’t being examined by a physician or weren’t going to a doctor,” Pierce said.

“Perhaps these individuals chose not to visit their physician, perhaps their illness was advancing.  But I must believe some of those lives would have been saved if they would have been examined by a physician,” he said.

Pierce said it is unclear whether the deceased delayed care due to concerns about contracting COVID-19 in medical facilities.  

“It’s hard to say but the large number of natural deaths, at home, during the height of the pandemic, suggests to me, delayed medical care,” Pierce said.

The other substantial increase the office has seen is the number of drug overdoses.

“The suggestion was the lockdown would cause more suicides, but it hasn’t for Baldwin County,” Pierce said. “The only two increases we saw were in drug overdose and natural death at home.”

Pierce said the number of deaths due to drug overdose jumped 240 percent in the last two years. Previously the county averaged 20 overdose deaths per year, for the past five years. In 2020 that number jumped to 50. In 2021 it will amount to over 70.

The coroner’s office does not investigate every death in the county. The staff there only tends to victims of violent deaths such as homicide and car wrecks, unattended deaths of individuals who have passed away at home rather than in a hospice care, a nursing home or the hospital and deaths with charges pending.

While Pierce said the pandemic has been challenging for his office, their patient load has not increased at the pace hospitals have recently seen. COVID-19 patients who die in the hospital will not be seen by the coroner, instead those death certificates are signed by the attending physician.

Still, the average monthly patient count at the coroner’s office is 50. In August that number soared to 102. Twenty of those individuals were Covid positive but did not die from the disease.

Pierce said he would not be surprised if there is another spike in cases over the winter months and urges the citizens of Baldwin County that medical care is important, even during a pandemic.

“Go to the doctor if you’re having issues, that self-care is important,” he said.

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