56-year-old Gary Fowler later passed away on April 7 at home in a recliner while his wife slept in a nearby bed, the Detroit Free Press reports. Gary died a mere six hours after his father, 76-year-old David Fowler, also succumbed to the virus.
Gary Fowler’s stepson Keith Gambrell told the outlet Fowler attempted to get medical treatment at three emergency rooms in the Detroit area: Beaumont, Detroit Receiving, and Henry Ford hospitals. He was denied a test or treatment.
Gary began exhibiting symptoms after visiting his father in late March. The family believed David had the flu but he tested positive for coronavirus and was hospitalized with a ventilator after passing out at home.
According to Gambrell, Beaumont Hospital told Gary he likely had bronchitis and to treat it like it was COVID-19. Fowler was given similar instructions at the other hospitals.
“He was begging for his life, but no one would help him at all. Like they just kept sending him away,” Gambrell told CBS This Morning. “I honestly believe it was because my father was black. They didn’t honestly take his symptoms serious enough to give him a test.”
While Detroit Receiving Hospital told WXYZ Detroit the hospital had no record of Gary Fowler, Henry Ford Hospital told the news outlet:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Fowler’s and all families devastated by the effects of COVID-19,” a spokeswoman said. “We’re not able to share details due to patient privacy, but we don’t take lightly any concerns of biased care given our dedication to putting patients first. Throughout this pandemic, we have followed CDC guidelines related to testing and clinical care protocols. Henry Ford has also been a leader in addressing health disparities and driving true health equity as part of our core mission and values and that work will continue.”
Beaumont expressed similar sentiments in a statement:
“COVID-19 is hitting Southeastern Michigan particularly hard. As patients come to Beaumont for care during this extraordinary time, we are doing all we can to evaluate, triage, and care for patients based on the information we know at the time. When making care decisions, we do not discriminate against anyone based upon their gender, race or any other factor. We grieve the loss of any patient to COVID-19 or any other illness.”
After his stepfather passed away, Gambrell reached out to his cousin, State Representative Karen Whitsett, to get tests for his family. Gambrell and his brothers Troy and Ross have now tested positive for the virus. Gambrell’s mother was also hospitalized for COVID-19 on the day her husband died. The family has since set up a GoFundMe campaign to help with medical bills and expenses.
A disproportionate number of black people have died from COVID-19 in Michigan. According to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, even though black people are only 14 percent of the state’s population, they make up around 33 percent of the state’s cases and about 40 percent of the deaths.