A Michigan family is in mourning after one of its members passed away after he was allegedly turned away from three different hospitals despite showing coronavirus symptoms and having had contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Gary Fowler, 56, died on April 7 while sitting in a recliner next to his sleeping wife in his home in Grosse Pointe Woods, according to the Detroit Free Press. He passed away just hours after his own father, David Fowler, died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
His stepson, Keith Gambrell, told the outlet that Gary had tried to seek help at three emergency rooms in Detroit area, but was denied access to a COVID-19 test or treatment before he passed.
“My dad passed at home, and no one tried to help him,” Keith, 33, said. “He asked for help, and they sent him away. They turned him away.”
Keith said his stepfather started showing symptoms of coronavirus after visiting Gary’s father in late March. The family had initially believed David had the flu, but the patriarch tested positive for the COVID-19 and was placed on a ventilator when he was hospitalized after passing out in his bathroom.
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Keith told the Detroit Free Press that his stepfather developed a cough and fever in the weeks following the visit, but was turned away from the Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit Receiving Hospital and the Beaumont Hospital when he sought testing and treatment there.
“He tells them, ‘My father has the coronavirus. I would like to get a test because I am showing symptoms. I am coughing,'” Keith said. “He had a fever of 101. He had shortness of breath. He was showing all the signs.”
Keith claimed health officials at Beaumont Hospital told his stepfather that “more than likely the fever is from bronchitis” and sent him him along with “a piece of paper saying to act like you have the virus.”
Gary received similar instruction from workers at Henry Ford Hospital and Detroit Receiving Hospital, Keith claimed.
“He was begging for his life, but no one would help him at all. Like they just kept sending him away,” Keith 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.”
Detroit Medical Center, which operates Detroit Receiving Hospital, tells PEOPLE that they have no record of Gary Fowler “coming to Detroit Receiving Hospital for any treatment.”
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A spokesperson for Beaumont tells PEOPLE 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.”
A representative for Henry Ford Hospital did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment, but Henry Ford Health System’s vice president of integrated communications, Brenda Craig, told Detroit Free Press in a statement, “All patients who come to our emergency departments receive care and assessment. Some patients will meet criteria for admission at the time, while others may not. In the case of COVID-19, we have a multi-step triage process. As patients arrive to our emergency department, all are screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Those with mild or moderate symptoms who do not meet admission criteria at the time they present may be sent home with strict instructions to return immediately if symptoms worsen.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Fowlers and all families devastated by the effects of COVID-19. 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,” Craig added. “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.”
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Worried about his family’s health after his stepfather’s passing, Keith told CBS This Morning he had to contact his cousin, State Representative Karen Whitsett, in order to get access to COVID-19 tests. Keith said he and his two brothers, Troy and Ross, have since tested positive for the virus.
Gary’s wife and Keith’s mother, Cheryl Fowler, was hospitalized the same day her husband died, according to a GoFundMe campaign set up by the family. Though she had been released to recover at home, she was admitted into the hospital again on Tuesday “for COVID-19 and pneumonia.”
The family is currently raising funds to help with medical bills and expenses. As of Wednesday, they have raised $9,524 out of their $50,000 goal.
There have been at least 822,239 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with 41,683 deaths from coronavirus-related illness, as of April 22.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.