COVID patient dies hours after hospital releases him: Problem Solvers investigation

Problem Solvers

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. (KDVR) — The family of a Denver man wants answers from Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge after he died less than 24 hours after he was discharged.

“I definitely feel like there needs to be some explaining,” said Sophia Porreco, daughter of George Peters.

The 69-year-old was admitted to the hospital on Feb. 1 due to complications from COVID-19.

“He was confused, he was having trouble breathing,” said his wife, JoAnne Peters.

The 71-year-old said she was shocked when her husband called her on Feb. 5 to say he was being released.

“I was nervous to bring him home. I was worried,” said Peters, who explained her husband was overweight, had a history of high cholesterol and had been given stomach injections to prevent blood clots while he was in the hospital.

On the morning of Feb. 6, JoAnne Peters found her husband face-down on the floor in the living room, cold to the touch.

“It was devastating,” said Peters. “We had been married 44 years.”

“I mean, it doesn’t make a bit of sense when they (doctors) made it sound like he was doing better. I don’t know how less than 24 hours, I mean honestly, less than 15 hours later, he was gone,” said Sophia Porreco.

“It raises a lot of red flags that need to be answered,” said Hollynd Hoskins, a medical malpractice attorney who does not represent the Peters family.

“I would be concerned that this patient was unnecessarily discharged from the hospital when he was not medically stable,” said Hoskins.

Hoskins told the Problem Solvers it’s possible George Peters died from a pulmonary embolism since his family said he was given preventative treatments for blood clots in the hospital.

“That could be one of the things that caused his death and that is something that is preventable if he’s kept in the hospital,” she said.

Lutheran Medical Center declined an interview request from the Problem Solvers, instead offering a statement that reads in part, “We can tell you that patients are discharged from the hospital based on an evaluation of their medical condition that indicates there is no longer a need for acute medical care.”

“It sounds like under these circumstances, the hospital has a duty to conduct an internal investigation,” said Hoskins.

Porreco told the Problem Solvers she is convinced her father would still be alive if he hadn’t been discharged after five days.

“I do. I mean, obviously the monitoring would’ve been closer,” she said.

“I will always live with, ‘Did he have a heart attack? Did he have a blood clot? What happened?’ I will never know,” said Peters.

 The Adams County Coroner’s Office told FOX31 the death of George Peters doesn’t meet its guidelines for conducting an autopsy because it’s not considered an unnatural or suspicious death. 

When JoAnne Peters first asked the hospital to conduct an autopsy, she was told she would have to pay for a private autopsy but after FOX31 made inquires, a spokeswoman said, “In looking at the unique circumstances specific to this incident, Lutheran would be willing to work with the family to cover the cost of an autopsy if we can find a trained professional willing to perform the autopsy, which may be challenging due to the patient’s positive COVID-19 status.”

On Feb. 15, JoAnne Peters said a patient advocate told her the hospital had found a pathologist to perform an autopsy on her husband. The autopsy was due to take place Feb. 17. Complete results typically take six to eight weeks.

Hospitals are required to report patient deaths to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment if they meet a particular criteria. But a spokesman for CDPHE told FOX31 that because George Peters died at home shortly after he was discharged, it’s not clear if his death met that criteria.

FOX31 is still waiting for the state to clarify when it will determine if the death of George Peters should have been reported.

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