Iowa man who died of sepsis waited 15 days for specialized-care hospital bed amid COVID surge

If not for wards full of unvaccinated COVID patients, the Weeks family feels their beloved patriarch might still be alive.

Retired Iowa school superintendent Dale Weeks died late last month after waiting 15 days for a bed in a larger medical center than the relatively small local hospital he was relegated to while he battled a sepsis infection. He was 78.


The husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather had spent years as an educator, a math and science teacher and principal, before serving as schools superintendent in two Michigan school districts before retiring in 2007.

His death was not caused by coronavirus, but his family considers him a victim of the pandemic, they told the Des Moines Register.

Sepsis, a blood-borne infection, can be fatal with or without quick treatment. The local hospital where he was administered i.v. antibiotics, but he didn’t improve. Weeks needed specialized care available at larger hospitals in the area, but they had no beds. Many were jammed with acute cases of COVID, a larger percentage of whom were not vaccinated. Weeks finally got a bed at the University of Iowa Hospital on Nov. 17, the Register said, where he learned he needed surgery for an infection.

“It’s infuriating that people who are not vaccinated are clogging it up,” Jenifer Owenson of Des Moines, one of Weeks’ four children, told the Register, relating the family’s attempts to get him 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.”

Then his number did indeed come up, but not the way his family wanted it to.

Weeks died on Nov. 28.

Hospital representatives did not comment specifically on Weeks’ case but acknowledged that hospitals are crowded and understaffed.

“In addition to an increased number of COVID-19 cases and spread of the delta and omicron variants, hospitals across the country are dealing with traumas and experiencing multiple types of illness,” one spokesperson told the Des Moines Register. “This demand is coupled with a reduced number of staff to care for patients. These challenges can strain available resources and contribute to delays in care or other complications for patients.”

It can also kill them, Weeks’ family believes, although they know he might not have survived even if his care weren’t compromised.

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