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Woman with COVID-19 who died during hospital transfer wasn't stable enough to be moved, records show

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Posted at 5:35 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 18:29:31-04

(WXYZ) — The 7 Investigators were the first to reveal how Beaumont Health was moving patients on ventilators out of their facilities and sending them to other hospital systems. Now, we’ve learned that one of those patients died during transport, and her family is questioning why she was moved at all.

Lisa Cole’s focus in life was family.

“Two peas in a pod, when you see one, they knew – the sister love, the sister bond that me and my sister had, and now I don’t have that,” said Tracey Cole, Lisa Cole’s sister.

The 59-year-old from Farmington Hills loved spending time with Tracey, and Lisa doted on Tracey’s daughter.

“I’m really lost right now without her, because she was my rock,” said Tracey.

Tracey was worried back in mid-March when Lisa got the coronavirus.

“I recommended she go to the emergency [room] because she was having a hard time breathing,” said Tracey.

Tracey says Lisa spent 2 1/2 weeks at Beaumont Farmington Hills, and she was told Lisa was improving.

“They were going to do a spontaneous breathing trial on her, and she passed it, and they were looking at getting ready to take the vent tubes out. And then all of a sudden they moved her from Farmington to Trenton,” said Tracey.

Tracey is like so many family members during the COVID-19 pandemic who have had to make medical decisions for loved ones from afar, because they’re not allowed in the hospital to be an in-person advocate. So she approved the transfer because doctors told her it was necessary: They said Beaumont Farmington Hills was at capacity.

But after only two days at Beaumont Trenton, Tracey was told they wanted to move Lisa again – this time outside of Beaumont’s system.

“I said, 'why do you all have to move her again?'” Tracey asked the doctors. She says they told her, “Well, we’re at capacity, and the patients that are showing progress, we want to move them out so we can continue their care.”

Tracey says Beaumont planned to send Lisa to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Ann Arbor, even though Lisa was not a veteran.

The 7 Investigators previously reported that the VA took 48 patients off Beaumont’s hands as they closed their Wayne location and reduced patient loads across their system.

Tracey did not want Lisa transferred a second time, but felt she had no choice. So Lisa was moved by ambulance on Easter Sunday. Sadly, she never made it to the VA.

“She coded in transit. That’s what the doctor said to me. She coded three times in transit,” said Tracey.

A Beaumont source afraid to talk to us on camera for fear of retaliation has told the 7 Investigators that the Beaumont Trenton ICU was not at capacity and there was no medical reason to transfer Lisa Cole’s care.

“They shouldn’t have moved her,” said Tracey.

Lisa Cole’s medical records from the day before she was transferred seem to back that up. On April 11, those records show a notation that says: “Stable for Transfer – No.”

After Lisa Cole died, records show a Beaumont nurse contacted the Wayne County Medical Examiner, categorizing this as a “death(s) under suspicious or unusual circumstances.”

Beaumont officials have maintained it is safe to transfer their critical care patients on ventilators.

During a previous press conference with Beaumont CEO John Fox, the 7 Investigators asked if those transfers across their system were done because COVID-19 patients are expensive.

“Was that done to save money?” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo during a press conference via Zoom in April.

“No, it was not done to save money,” said Fox. “No patient is transferred unless they meet appropriate clinical criteria, and it can be done safely.”

But an email from a Beaumont manager to Trenton staff on April 13 tells a different story. The email says, “John Fox went to Gretchen Whitmer and said Beaumont health cannot sustain all the COVID patients because financially it will ruin our business… We are bleeding money out of our system.”

Meanwhile, Tracey just wants to know why her sister is gone.

“I know for a fact in my heart, they shouldn’t have moved her, if they hadn’t have moved her, my sister might still be here,” said Tracey Cole.

Mark Geary, Director of External Communications and Media Relations said Beaumont could not comment on Lisa Cole’s death due to privacy laws, but did send us this statement:

“Our team mourns all who have died from COVID-19 and we empathize with all who have lost a loved one to the virus.

As the pandemic reached its peak in SE Michigan in April, Beaumont Health stretched to serve a uniquely high population of COVID-19 patients. We needed a safe path forward that acknowledged the limits to our capacity: staff, medical equipment and beds. To provide all patients, both present and future, with access to appropriate care, we worked with the state of Michigan to transfer patients to other health systems that had capacity and resources. Physicians evaluated all patients considered for a transfer and used their best judgment and the information available to them at the time to determine whether or not to proceed with a transfer.

Despite our best efforts, patients in our community are still dying from COVID-19. We must continue to work together to defeat it.”

The 7 Investigators reached out to Governor Gretchen Whitmer for comment on Beaumont’s statement that they “worked with the State of Michigan to transfer patients to other health systems.”

Whitmer’s press secretary, Tiffany Brown, released this statement to us:

“The governor and administration officials are in frequent contact with hospital CEOs and medical professionals across the state who are serving on the front lines during this unprecedented national pandemic. However, the state does not authorize patient transfers. Facility-to-facility transfers occur at the agreement of the chief medical officers of both entities.”

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