Government works to stop death record mistakes

by: Justin Gray Updated:

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ATLANTA - The government declares thousands of people dead every year who are actually alive.

“I’m not dead!” Glora Osby told Channel 2’s Justin Gray. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought I misunderstood things.”

Osby, according to the U.S. Government, died six months ago.

Suddenly her Social Security check didn't come. Her home nurse stopped showing up. And the medication she takes for seizures couldn't be filled.

At Brigam and Women's Hospital in Boston, Dr. Thomas Lee learned his patient was dead when filling an online prescription. But when he called the family home, the patient he thought was dead actually picked up the phone.

Lee started researching the problem and wrote about it in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"It happens about as often as death by homicide by gun," Lee said.


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Rona Lawson has been tracking this for years at the Social Security Administration's Inspector General's Office.

She says it's a pretty basic issue of human error.

"Where the Social Security employee is keying it into their computer and they just put it to the wrong person's name," Lawson said.

An estimated 99 percent of the time, the mistake happens when a spouse passes away. That was the situation with Lee's patient.


In Osby's case, the error likely came when she changed her address.

The Inspector General says these mistakes aren't happening as often as they used to, dropping from 1,000 people per month five years ago to about 500 a month now.

It took Osby's daughter three months to get everything straightened out.

"My daughter, she brought me back to life," Osby said.

The Social Security Administration says if more states would send in more death data electronically, it would reduce the number of these mistakes.