Dale Weeks’ family believe he was an indirect victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The retired Iowa school principal died in late November, nearly a month after being diagnosed with sepsis, a dangerous blood-borne infection unrelated to the coronavirus.
His daughters believe he could have survived if he had been admitted immediately to a large medical center, where he could have undergone advanced tests and prompt surgery.
But he stayed at the relatively small Newton Hospital for 15 days because larger facilities said they couldn’t book a bed for him, his family said. Hospitals in Iowa, which are understaffed, have been crowded for months with patients, including those seriously ill with COVID-19.
“It’s maddening that people who aren’t vaccinated are blocking it,” said Jenifer Owenson of Des Moines, who is one of Weeks’ four children.
Weeks lived in the town of Seymour, in southern Iowa. When he started to feel sick, he thought it might be a side effect of a flu shot and a coronavirus shot booster. On the night of November 1, he attended the nearby Centerville hospital, where staff determined he was suffering from sepsis. âThey told my dad and his wife right away that they didn’t have beds,â Owenson said.
Staff called for hours, searching for an open hospital bed. At first, the closest they could find was in Illinois. Then, at noon the next day, they found a spot at MercyOne Hospital in Newton, 80 miles north of Centerville. He was taken there by ambulance.
Owenson said staff at Newton’s hospital had done their best for his father, including giving him intravenous antibiotics. But when his infection did not resolve, the family repeatedly asked if he could be transferred to a more advanced hospital. “We were told he was on a ‘severity list’, and his number had not been taken,” she said.
He was aware of the situation, she said. âHe was extremely frustrated. He said to me, ‘Why can’t we do something?’ “
On November 17, after 15 days, he was taken by ambulance to the University of Iowa hospitals. Doctors determined on Nov. 25 that he needed surgery to remove a serious infection from an artery near his stomach, where years earlier he had had a stent installed to repair an aneurysm.
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âThey said he really had no choice. He had to have this operation or he would die in a few days, âsaid Owenson’s twin sister Julia Simanski of Ankeny.
The Nov. 26 surgery lasted 17 hours, but Weeks continued to struggle, his daughters said. A surgeon told the family it was one of the worst infections they’ve ever seen, they said. A second, shorter operation did not reverse its decline. His kidneys and bowels were failing. He died on November 28 at the age of 78.
Hospital officials declined to comment on Weeks’ case, but acknowledged the frustration caused by hospital overcrowding.
âIn addition to an increased number of COVID-19 cases and a spread of the delta and omicron variants, hospitals across the country are facing trauma and suffering from several types of illnesses,â the door wrote. word of MercyOne, Marcy Peterson, in an email to Des Moines Register. . âThis demand is accompanied by a reduced workforce to treat patients. These challenges can strain available resources and contribute to delays in care or other complications for patients.
She noted that unvaccinated people make up a large percentage of COVID-19 hospital patients.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported on Wednesday that nearly 82% of people hospitalized in Iowa for COVID-19 were not fully immunized, including 88% of people in intensive care. Overall, 30% of adults in Iowa are not fully immunized.
Laura Shoemaker, spokesperson for University of Iowa hospitals, said her facility was often near full.
âEven before the pandemic, it was not uncommon for us to operate at 90-95% of our capacity on average,â she wrote in an email to the Des Moines Register. âIn perspective, we have 860 beds and to date, we have 780 hospitalized patients. This number continually increases and decreases hourly as patients are discharged and new patients are admitted. “
She noted that to deal with such overcrowding, the University of Iowa recently obtained approval to build an additional hospital in North Liberty.
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Weeks was a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was a former math and science teacher and principal who served as a principal in Mingo, Woodward-Granger and Seymour Districts before retiring in 2007.
“He will be remembered by many as a kind, loyal and humble person,” his family wrote in his obituary. “He could be counted on to offer help, say ‘yes’ to a request for a favor, and do the best in others.”
His family will never know if the pandemic indirectly shortened his life. They understand that he could have died even if he had been admitted immediately to a large medical center. Still, Simanski said: “I think it would have given us a fairer chance.”
Tony Leys covers health care for the Registry. Reach it at [emailÂ protected] or 515-284-8449.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowan dies after 15 days of waiting for hospital bed amid COVID wave