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Family of Michigan health care worker says she was denied a COVID-19 test 4 times before she died

Posted at 8:25 AM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 08:31:28-04

Deborah Gatewood's first symptom was fever. Then, there was nausea.

The 63-year-old stopped eating for days, her daughter Kaila Corrothers said. Then came the shortness of breath.

On four different occasions starting in mid-March, Gatewood went to Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan — where she worked for 31 years — seeking treatment, or even just a test, for COVID-19.

Each time, her family says she was denied.

"She was like, they're not going take me," her daughter recalls. "She was so discouraged at that point because they'd turned her away four times."

Corrothers said her mother, a longtime phlebotomist for the hospital, began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms on March 18. Shortly thereafter, she went to Beaumont, seeking to be tested for the coronavirus.

"They just told her to take some Tylenol, go home, try to get some rest," Corrothers says. "Which she did."

Over a period of weeks, she said her mother's condition worsened. But each time Gatewood asked to be tested for the coronavirus, Corrothers says the hospital told her that she did not qualify.

Countless other Beaumont employees have reported the same experience.

"I wanted to get tested, and I was not able to," said one nurse who developed COVID-19 symptoms earlier this month.

The nurse spoke on the condition that their name not be used because Beaumont has not given its employees permission to speak to reporters.

"I feel like they're not really putting in the care for the workers," the employee said. "They're not really showing their real care when we actually get sick. They just tell us just to stay home. But I feel like they should do more."

In a statement, Beaumont said that, until recently, tests for COVID-19 were prioritized for patients.

"Throughout the pandemic, Beaumont Health, like many other health care organizations across the United States, has struggled with having enough testing kits and reagents," Beaumont spokesman Mark Geary said. "This unfortunate situation has caused the organization to be forced to prioritize scarce resources. The first priority was to our inpatient population, with any excess going to employees."

However, the hospital system says it recently secured additional testing resources and will soon be increasing the testing of employees.

"Beginning last week, any employee who calls in sick with COVID-19 symptoms is automatically scheduled for a test after 48 hours," Geary said. "In addition, we will work through the backlog of employees to be tested. Our goal is to test any employee who is out with COVID-19 symptoms within three days."

Earlier this month, Beaumont said 1,500 of its health workers had developed COVID-19 symptoms. Henry Ford Health System — a separate health network in the Detroit area — says more than 2,000 of its employees have developed symptoms as well.

Across the state, an untold number of those health workes have died, including Gatewood.

After being denied treatment four times at Beaumont, Gatewood's family says she was finally admitted to the emergency room at Sinai Grace Hospital. She died after doctors put her on a ventilator.

Unlike most families, Corrothers was able to say goodbye to her mother at her bedside, wearing a gown, mask and gloves.

"She was heavily sedated, there wasn't any interaction," Corrothers said. "Just me talking to her. Catching her up on life. Her grandbaby, everything. Telling her how much I loved her. And I sang to her. And I prayed."

"As patients come to Beaumont for care during this pandemic, we are doing everything we can to evaluate, triage and care for patients based on the information we know at the time," Beaumont said in a statement. "We grieve the loss of any patient to COVID-19 or any other illness."

This story was originally published by Ross Jones on WXYZ in Detroit.