Photo/Illutration For many COVID-19 patients, the phone is their main lifeline. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

SAITAMA--A local man in his 50s apparently slipped through the cracks of the medical system and died while he was recuperating from COVID-19 at home.

Officials failed to transfer some of his patient information in a jurisdictional mix-up, and, as a result, he was never put under health observation by any public health office.

“It is extremely regrettable that such a situation has arisen,” Makoto Komatsubara, a public health official with the Saitama prefectural government, said at a Sept. 6 news conference. “We will review our administrative procedures to prevent a recurrence and implement measures, such as unified handling of health information.”

The man was confirmed with COVID-19 at a time when new cases were rising sharply in Saitama Prefecture and health care workers were scrambling to cope with the sudden influx of patients. Because of that, they failed to properly package and file the man’s medical records.

According to prefectural officials, the man was confirmed with COVID-19 on Aug. 18 at a medical institution under the jurisdiction of the Kasukabe public health office. Kasukabe is located just east of Saitama city.

The man gave his address as Saitama city, so the city’s public health office was put in charge of him.

The following day, Saitama public health officials checked the man’s health and found he had a fever of 39.8 degrees, as well as breathing problems when he tried to walk. However, they decided he did not require immediate hospitalization.

It later came to light that his residence actually falls under the jurisdiction of the Kasukabe public health office. So, on Aug. 20, Saitama city government officials handed the man’s case over to the Kasukabe office. But they did not send the results of his health check from the previous day.

Officials with the Kasukabe public health office printed out the man’s information and put it into his patient folder. Normally, a copy of the document is made, and the information is written into a medical report that is used to check on the condition of the patient’s health.

However, because no copy was ever made, no subsequent health checks were carried out. The failure to make a copy was likely an oversight caused by the sharp increase in COVID-19 patients at the time, officials said.

On Sept. 3, an acquaintance of the man informed Kasukabe public health officials that he could not contact him. Public health officials and police went to the man’s residence to check on him and discovered that he had died in his home. An autopsy determined that he died in late August, but the exact cause of death remains unknown.

Officials of the Kasukabe public health office had set up a system that automatically calls registered individuals to check on them. The man had responded once a day from Aug. 19 and 21.

The Kasukabe public health office normally confirms that it is not overlooking a patient under its watch by cross-checking records against other information.

But that procedure was also not carried out because of the surge in patients.