Family left with questions after ‘non-Covid-19’ death of Auckland rest home resident

The family of Shanti Kumari, who died on Thursday, say they want answers about her death.


The family of Shanti Kumari, who died on Thursday, say they want answers about her death.

The family of a grandmother who tested positive for Covid-19 say they’re confused about why her death is not being linked to the virus.

Shanti Kumari, 87, was taken to North Shore Hospital on Wednesday night, shortly after receiving a positive test. She died on Thursday morning.

She was a resident of Edmonton Meadows rest home in West Auckland, where 15 residents and four staff members have tested positive for the virus.

The Ministry of Health reported she was taken to hospital for end-of-life care, but the family said they were told it was for “constant monitoring”.

* Covid-19: Resident at Edmonton Meadows rest home with virus dies, from unrelated cause
* Covid-19: Family ‘surprised’ by spread of virus at West Auckland rest home
* Covid-19: Two more staff members test positive at West Auckland rest home

“We were not given clear answers around the cause of my grandmother’s death,” her grandson said.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Residents at St Margaret’s Hospital and Rest Home were stuck in their rooms, with the virus literally on its doorstep, waiting it out. (First published May 2020)

Kumari had underlying health conditions and was “very weak and frail”, her grandson said.

She had been confined to her room at the rest home before contracting the virus, and was double vaccinated.

He said her oxygen levels were at 95 per cent when she was admitted to hospital, but dropped to 75 per cent by the next morning.

“Clearly, she died from a respiratory related illness which is surely Covid,” he said.

“There may have been a strong possibility that my grandmother could not survive with her pre-existing health conditions, but she would not have been in hospital if she did not have Covid.

“When she was brought into the hospital her oxygen levels were fine and she was showing no signs or symptoms.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said the information about cause of death was provided by the district health board, based on the advice of the treating clinician.

“Covid-19 was not the primary cause of death, and we are not able to say to what extent it may have contributed to this person passing away.”

Waitematā DHB was communicating with the family, the spokesman said.

Professor Michael Baker says there are “ample grounds” for not counting someone who died with Covid-19 as a Covid death.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Professor Michael Baker says there are “ample grounds” for not counting someone who died with Covid-19 as a Covid death.

The grandson said the family’s grief was compounded by not being able to properly view the body, because the doctors advised she was still infectious.

They had to make do with viewing the casket from a distance for “less than a minute” to pay their final respects.

Kumari is survived by five children and 11 grandchildren.

The rest home has been contacted for comment.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said there were two main reasons a person who had tested positive for Covid-19 would not be defined as having died from the virus.

The World Health Organisation definition of a Covid-19 death was someone who was probably, or definitely, a Covid case and died from a “clinically compatible illness”.

If there was a “clear alternative” that could not be related to Covid-19, or if there was a period of recovery between being sick with Covid-19 and death, their death would not be classified as being due to Covid-19.

Baker, who is a Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago in Wellington, said in some countries, there had been a “deliberate obfuscation” of the numbers to lower the Covid-19 mortality rate.

However, New Zealanders have no reason to believe the Ministry of Health or clinicians would record a death incorrectly.

“There are ample grounds for not necessarily counting someone as a Covid death,” he said.

“From a disease point of view, this person will probably be counted as a Covid-19 case because the definition is very broad. It doesn’t necessarily mean that if they die they will be counted as a Covid-19 death.”

The way Covid-19 deaths were recorded had to be consistent, Baker said.

“There will always be cases on the borderline, and it comes down to clinical judgement what you assign them to.”

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