SEYMOUR, IA — With hospitals across the country filled because of the pandemic, many Americans are dying, unable to get the life-saving medical care needed for illnesses unrelated to COVID-19.
Jenifer Owenson and Julie Simanski’s dad, Dale Weeks, instilled in them the importance of education. It’s why Dale Weeks spent the better part of two decades as a superintendent in Seymour, Iowa, a small community in the southern part of the state home to 547 people.
“I think dad recognized he was there for a purpose and that was to serve the community and make sure there was education in the community,” Owenson said about her dad’s life-long career in education.
But these days, the lesson their dad is teaching has nothing to do with education.
Just after Halloween, the 78-year-old was diagnosed with sepsis. He was taken to the closest hospital in Centerville Iowa, about 20 minutes from his home. It quickly became clear though this small rural hospital wasn’t equipped to treat his condition.
And that’s when this family started seeing the secondary impact of COVID-19.
“Back then, there was nothing on the news. We had no idea what was going on,” Owenson remarked.
With hospital beds across the state filled to capacity with mostly unvaccinated COVID patients, not a single hospital across the Midwest capable of treating Dale Weeks could accept him.
“When they told us that we were all shocked. We were like, 'What do you mean you can’t get him into the hospital?'” Dale’s daughter Julie Simanski said.
For weeks, these two sisters spent countless hours calling every hospital in the region, begging them to give their dad a bed. All while Weeks' infection worsened. Doctors at the hospital he was at didn’t have the antibiotics needed to treat sepsis.
“It was astonishing to think our dad who needed specialized care could not get into a hospital,” Simanski added.
Eventually, Weeks was moved to another regional hospital in Newton, Iowa, located about 80 miles from his home. He stayed there for 15 days until a hospital in Iowa City agreed to accept him.
His family believes those 15 days spent looking for a hospital bed cost their dad his life.
“I am convinced things could have been different for him,” Simanski said.
On Nov. 28, Weeks died. His family believes had a larger hospital been able to treat him sooner, this beloved former superintendent would still be alive.
“He could’ve been with us. Maybe he’d be in the hospital but he’d still be around. That complicates our grief. Did he really have to die now?” Owenson wondered.
With no place else to direct their grief, these two women are hoping others might learn from their father’s death and see the importance of getting vaccinated to help keep COVID-19 hospitalization numbers down.
Just one open ICU bed could’ve made the difference for Weeks.
“I’m frustrated that people are not realizing the seriousness of the situation. People are not aware that their actions are not just affecting themselves, but has an implication on the whole healthcare system,” Owenson said.