When Kaila Corrothers thinks about the final moments of her mother’s life one thing lingers: “This did not have to happen this way,” she told NBC News.
For the past 31 years Corrothers’ mother, Deborah Gatewood, worked as a phlebotomist — doing blood draws — at Beaumont Hospital in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills.
It therefore came as a shock when her own facility denied the 63-year-old a COVID-19 test four times despite her displaying symptoms of the novel virus.
“They said she wasn’t severe enough and that they weren’t going to test her,” Corrothers, told NBC News. “They told her to just go home and rest.”
The days are all circled on Corrothers’ calendar. The first time occurred on March 18, during which Gatewood drove herself to the hospital’s emergency room and requested a test but was sent home.
The second time Gatewood found herself at her own hospital, on March 19, she had developed a cough.
“So they gave her a prescription for cough medicine,” Corrothers said during a phone interview with NBC News on Friday.
That’s when her symptoms changed for the worse.
Gatewood found herself at the hospital again on March 21 after her fever had spiked. During that visit she was told she more than likely had the novel virus, but was still denied a test, Corrothers said.
And on March 23 Gatewood was turned away from Beaumont for the final time.
“The fact that she got infected by doing the job she did for 31 years and she couldn’t get taken care of by her own family — meaning Beaumont — it’s sad,” Corrothers told Fox 2 news. “It is disheartening, to say the least.”
On March 27 Gatewood collapsed inside her Detroit home as her family was readying her for another emergency room visit. She was taken by ambulance to Sinai-Grace Hospital, where she’d spend her final days.
“I just went up to the hospital and sat in the parking lot. If this was as close as I can be to her if this is going to happen, I’m going to sit in my car until I get that phone call,” Corrothers told the local Fox news affiliate.
The call came on April 17 — just two years before Gatewood had planned to retire and become a full-time grandma, her daughter said.
“She said she’s going to hang in there for a couple more years and … retire and be the greatest nanny I need her to be,” Corrothers said.
Corrothers, in contrast to many family members of victims of the contagion, was able to be at her mother’s side in her last moments.
“She was heavily sedated, there wasn’t any interaction,” she told local station WXYZ. “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.”
When asked about their protocol for testing for the virus, Beaumont Hospital said in a statement: “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. We grieve the loss of any patient to COVID-19 or any other illness.”
But in response to reports that the facility consistently denies its employees testing for the virus, Beaumont admitted that it had been prioritizing test for patients over employees that might have been showing symptoms.
“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 told WXYZ. “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.”
Beaumont now says it has the resources to test its own workers.
On April 17 the Trump administration said that they would be pushing for more testing and preparing an aggressive testing strategy to support plans to reopen the country, but there has been little evidence this initiative is succeeding.
In recent weeks Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has cited a testing supply shortage in metro Detroit and its surrounding areas as a critical problem in the fight against the outbreak.