DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — A Republican state representative asked prosecutors to bring criminal charges against Colorado’s top public health official Thursday, claiming that she illegally falsified death records to inflate COVID-19 death totals.
Rep. Mark Baisley (R-Roxborough Park) issued a formal letter requesting an investigation and criminal charges by George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District. Brauchler is also a Republican.
Baisley accuses Jill Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), of “falsely altering death certificates.” CDPHE collects and reports COVID-19 statistics from across Colorado.
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“Falsely inflating the number of deaths due to COVID-19 adversely impacts the professional reputation of nursing homes, hospitals and healthcare workers while creating undue fear for families,” Baisley wrote in his letter.
He also provided another letter dated April 17 from the Someren Glen senior care center to its staff, residents, and residents’ families. The Centennial facility's letter said CPDHE had overruled the cause of death findings by attending physicians in order to list seven deaths as being caused by COVID-19.
“We have never seen a situation where the health department overrules a physician’s findings,” the letter provided by Baisley reads. “However, these are unprecedented times and the health department officials did not share their motivation for changing physician’s orders.”
In a statement to 9Wants to Know on Thursday, CDPHE said the department has used a nationwide standard accepted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to classify deaths.
"We classify a death as confirmed when there was a case who had a positive SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) laboratory test and then died. We also classify some deaths as probable," their statement said.
That method changed, however, on Friday. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and CDPHE announced that going forward, cases in which people had COVID-19 and died of another cause will be recorded separately from the deaths that were caused by COVID-19.
With the new protocol, state records show 1,150 people died with COVID-19 in their systems as of Friday, and 878 people have died because of the coronavirus. One day prior, state data said there were 1,019 COVID-19 deaths.
"What the people of Colorado want to know is not who died with COVID, but who died of COVID-19," Polis said in a press conference. "I've told [CDPHE] to make sure they're very clear in their reporting."
He added there are only a few cases where the official cause of death isn't clear, and that he considers criminal charges against Ryan to be "completely inappropriate."
Brauchler told 9NEWS it's too premature to discuss charges before an investigation, but it is possible that misdemeanor charges could be filed if his office were to find wrongdoing.
Elected Republicans at the local and state level have been critical of public health leaders throughout the pandemic.
Baisley previously signed on to an effort encouraging Douglas County to break ties with Tri-County Health Department after its public health leaders suggested a stay-home order.
Prior criticism from Republicans at the state legislature had focused on policy decisions. Baisley’s letter is the first formal accusation of criminal wrongdoing by Colorado’s public health officials.
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