DES MOINES, Iowa — The family of a retired school superintendent who died from an infection unrelated to COVID-19 believes he would have had a better chance of surviving had his transfer to a larger hospital not been delayed for 15 days because of the pandemic.
Dale Weeks' twin daughters told the Des Moines Register that their father stayed at the relatively small hospital in Newton, west of Des Moines, because larger hospitals couldn't spare a bed for him. Weeks died Nov. 28 at age 78.
Weeks lived in the southern Iowa town of Seymour, where he was the school superintendent before he retired in 2007. He went to the hospital in nearby Centerville on Nov. 1 thinking he might be experiencing the side effects of a flu shot or COVID-19 booster shot, but doctors diagnosed sepsis, a dangerous, blood-borne infection.
His family said the Centerville hospital did not have a bed for him, and it took that hospital until the next day to find one in Newton, 80 miles north.
He received intravenous antibiotics, but his infection didn't disappear. Family members repeatedly asked whether he could be transferred to a more advanced hospital.
“We kept being told he was on a ‘list of degrees of severity,’ and his number had not come up,” said Jenifer Owenson, of Des Moines, who is one of Weeks’ twin daughters and one of his four children.
He was aware of the situation, Owenson said.
“He was like, ‘Why can’t something be done?’” she said.
Representatives of the hospitals declined to comment on Weeks’ case but acknowledged the frustration caused by hospital crowding.
Marcy Peterson, spokesperson for the MercyOne system that operates the Newton hospital, said hospitals across the U.S. are dealing with the spread of the delta and omicron COVID-19 variants but also other cases of trauma and illness.
Weeks was transported to the University of Iowa hospital system on Nov. 17, where doctors concluded on Nov. 25 that he needed surgery to deal with a severe infection in an artery near his stomach, his daughters said. The next day's surgery lasted 17 hours, but Weeks continued to struggle, and a second, shorter surgery didn't halt his decline.
Although Weeks might have died had he been admitted immediately to a larger medical center sooner, his other twin daughter, Julia Simanski of Ankeny, said: "I think it would have given us a fairer chance.”