Detroit Henry Ford nurse dies at home alone from coronavirus

Lisa Ewald celebrated a birthday with her mother, Marian Kraatz, in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the lives of Michigan police officers, politicians, postal service workers and auto workers. 

Now, it's beginning to kill the health care workers who've cared for the sick filling metro-Detroit’s Michigan's hospitals to capacity.   

The state Department of Health and Human Services says it does not track how many health care workers have contracted the disease. Nationally, it’s much the same, with state and federal agencies not uniformly reporting their deaths.  

Hospital workers have been outspoken on social media and in interviews with Free Press and Bridge Magazine reporters about their concerns about the lack of protective gear, such as masks, gowns, face shields and hand sanitizer, that is needed to keep them from falling ill, too.

Stories from the front  

Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Free Press are teaming up to report on Michigan hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. We will be sharing accounts of the challenges doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel face as they work to treat patients and save lives. 

If you work in a Michigan hospital, we would love to hear from you. You can contact Robin Erb at Bridge or Kristen Jordan Shamus at the Free Press.

Nine health care systems were sent emails from the Free Press Monday asking about staffing levels, illness among employees and their preparedness for the expected surge in coronavirus cases. Some did not respond. Others provided varying levels of detail.

Only one — Beaumont Health — provided information about sick workers. 

Aaron Gillingham, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Beaumont Health, said the system of eight hospitals is assessing staffing every day. So far, he said "only a few dozen of our employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

"When our employees develop COVID-19 symptoms, we treat them just as we would any patient. We assess their health and determine whether they should be tested for the virus." 

It's clear many on the front lines of the worst health crisis of our lifetime already are sick. 

These are the stories of the Michigan health care workers, all Detroit nurses, who are known to have died.

Lisa Ewald, Henry Ford Hospital nurse

Juleen Miller remembers the last time she saw her friend Lisa Ewald, a nurse at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. 

It was three weeks ago, and they met at Secret Recipes Family Dining in Taylor for breakfast.

Miller had no way of knowing it would be the last time she'd ever see her high school friend again. 

Ewald died this week of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Miller said. This Saturday would have been her 54th birthday.

Henry Ford Health System President and CEO Wright Lassiter III confirmed on Friday the death of an employee. 

“There are not adequate words to describe how saddened we are," he said. "Our hearts ache for our employee's family, friends and colleagues. As health care providers on the frontlines of this pandemic, we know we are not immune to its traumatic effects.

"We continue to fight with every resource we have to protect our employees and provide the safest care to our patients. Because of patient privacy obligations, we cannot share additional information.”

Ewald lived in Dearborn and spent 20 years as a nurse at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, most recently working in post-surgery rehab. Her niece and nephew, Mandi and Micah Standifer of Shelby Township, said she was a jokester and “a nerd in the best way.” 

She attended the Motor City Comic Con every year and loved Harry Potter books and Star Trek. She was an active, optimistic person with no known health problems, they said. 

“It’s hard to believe this even happened, because she was so full of life,” said Micah Standifer, 35. “She’s the person you would expect to beat it.”

Ewald also loved to travel and was an active member of the Wayne County Republican Party. They became friends at Inter-City Baptist School in Allen Park, where they both went to school. 

Miller said they stayed in touch over the years, and last week, they exchanged text messages about how the pandemic was adding a new element of danger to the nursing profession.

Ewald assured Miller that she was fine. Miller planned to text Ewald again this week to wish her a happy birthday.

But now, she'll never get that chance. 

“The worst part,” Miller said, “is that you can’t even really honor her with a funeral because of this stupid thing."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has banned large gatherings, including funerals, in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread.

Ewald believed she was exposed to the virus after treating a patient who later tested positive, said Mandi Standifer, 32.

Ewald told her niece she was not wearing a mask and had asked to be tested, but hospital officials told her she couldn’t get a COVID-19 test until she began to experience symptoms of the disease. 

Ewald learned Sunday that the illness she was experiencing was COVID-19, said Mandi Standifer. By Tuesday, she was dead. Ewald’s neighbors and a fellow Henry Ford nurse found Ewald lifeless in her living room Wednesday morning.

The Standifers said they can understand the unique complications posed by a viral pandemic that caught the whole country off guard. They can understand that personal protective equipment and test kits are in short-supply. Still, they said, it’s frustrating that Ewald was forced to wait so long for testing, and then was instructed to go home and wait out the illness on her own. 

“It’s just wrong,” Micah Standifer said. “You would think they would take care of their own.”

Henry Ford’s Lassiter said the hospital system adheres “strictly” to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when it comes to testing employees for COVID-19. 

“Currently, the CDC recommends testing employees only when they become symptomatic,” he said. “Whether at work or at home under self-isolation, if an employee begins experiencing symptoms, they are urged to contact Employee Health and arrange for immediate testing. Meantime, we strongly urge anyone who is at home with symptoms to go to their nearest emergency room immediately if symptoms worsen, including a rising fever, uncontrolled cough or respiratory problems.”

Because the virus is highly contagious, Ewald’s house is under quarantine. The Standifers must wait until Monday, after the home has been sanitized, to retrieve the two pet cats Ewald left behind. 

Instead of the large funeral they would have planned if a pandemic didn't make group gatherings risky, five family members are attending a small closed-casket burial service. They’ll stand six feet apart and watch as Ewald’s casket is lowered into the ground. A gathering for the rest of Ewald’s loved ones will wait until the pandemic has ended. 

“It feels like a nightmare,” Mandi Standifer said. “I feel like I’m going to wake up and have a text message from her saying ‘I’m fine. I love you guys, too.’ But I’m not.”

Divinia 'Debbie' Accad, 72, who worked at the VA’s John D. Dingell Medical Center in Detroit, had talked recently about retiring (Courtesy photo)

Divinia 'Debbie' Accad, Detroit VA Medical Center nurse

Divinia Accad, a long-time nurse at the VA’s John D. Dingell Medical Center in Detroit, died Monday of complications of the coronavirus.

She was 72, and had begun talking about retiring, her son, Mark Accad, told the Free Press on Friday.

He said his mother was hospitalized with pneumonia, and spent 11 days at a Taylor hospital before she died. He said he was able to see her twice, but was denied a third visit. His final visit with his mother was at the morgue.

Dr. Pamela Reeves, Detroit VA Medical Center director, confirmed that an employee died of complications from COVID-19.  

"We offer our deepest condolences to the employee’s family and loved ones at this difficult time,” Reeves said. 

The VA said in a statement that "those who may have been in contact with the employee have been informed to report any symptoms and have either gone into self-quarantine or been placed into quarantine by their provider."

Divinia Accad, who went by Debbie, was the mother of three sons and a daughter, and grandmother of five. She lived in Taylor with her husband, William Accad.

Mark Accad said he hopes her death raises awareness of the risks that healthcare workers face during the pandemic.

“She sacrificed her life for our troops. I want my mom to be known for what she did,” Mark Accad said.

James House, 40, had been feeling sick for weeks. On Tuesday his illness took a turn and he was hospitalized. Within hours, his sister said, he was gone. (Courtesy photo)

James House, Omni Continuing Care nurse

James House, a nurse at a Detroit nursing home, died earlier this week after falling ill. 

Although he had not been tested for COVID-19, his sister Catrisha House-Phelphs told the Free Press Friday that her brother worked at Omni Continuing Care on Conner in Detroit, and had classic symptoms of the disease — cough, low-grade fever, shortness of breath.

She said her brother, a 40-year-old Warren resident, started feeling sick two weeks ago.

He went to a drive-up site that was taking samples for coronavirus tests, but was turned away.

House-Phelphs said her brother was told to stay home for seven days and wait it out. 

On Tuesday, House went back to work but quickly fell ill, needed oxygen and was rushed to the hospital, House-Phelphs said. 

She said her brother texted her and said he was going to be intubated.

“Things moved so fast,” she said. “It was like within a couple of hours of him being admitted, he had passed away.”

Omni Continuing Care issued the following statement Friday night:

"It is with great sadness to report the recent passing of one of our employees at Omni Continuing Care. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time. This individual was a beloved, long-time employee, who will be greatly missed. We have brought in grief counselors to assist our staff and residents. ... 

"The employee was last at work on March 31. He reported for work that day after being off since March 20 for an unknown illness. Upon arrival to our facility, he was still unwell, prompting immediate transfer to the hospital prior to starting his shift.

"As always, the health and safety of our residents and staff is our top priority. We continue to work with the local health department, and have implemented procedures consistent with CDC and CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) guidelines and direction and are continuing to monitor residents and staff for any signs and symptoms of COVID-19."

House-Phelphs described her brother, a father of five who grew up in Benton Harbor, as a committed nurse, a great brother and her best friend.

“He was a great man,” she said. “I mean, it’s a huge loss.”

 Bridge Magazine writers Robin Erb and Ashley Wong contributed to this report.


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Sat, 04/04/2020 - 8:17am

You can thank trump for killing them>>> HE did bring the disease to Detroit with one of last hate rallies a few month ago> AND he was told about the disease and sent tons of PPE to his partners in China!!!

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 9:28am

Don, please stop. This is no time for political grandstanding. Us nurses on the front lines don’t need to hear the hate you are spewing, it’s sickening. Try putting the energy you use for hate into saying thank you to those who are putting their lives on the line for their love of all people. That’s why we became nurses to help others.

Detroit RN
Sat, 04/04/2020 - 11:10am

As another RN on the frontline I will not forget that our president disregarded public health experts and all of the data that indicated that this virus was coming to the US. We lost 2-3 months of preparation that would have saved thousands or more lives. He put his political ambitions above the lives of Americans. Many of us will die because Trump didn't get us PPEs and ventilators, etc sooner.
Also, feel free to thank a nurse. We are now dying because of the work we do.

Sun, 04/05/2020 - 12:16pm

Here is what the worlds premier infectious disease specialist said with dates.
Feb 17 USAToday
Top disease official(Dr. Fauci): Risk of coronavirus in USA is 'minuscule'; skip mask and wash hands.
Dr. Fauci doesn't want people to worry about coronavirus, the danger of which is "just minuscule." But he does want them to take precautions against the "influenza outbreak, which is having its second wave."

March 3 Los Angeles Times
Senior public health officials continued to stress that the coronavirus does not represent a serious threat to most people.
“The risk is low,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Blame game?
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 9:43am

You mischaracterized everything Fauci said. Besides Fauci works for Trump, the NIH being an agency of the Office of Health and Human Services. Fauci constantly tries to correct Trump, but Trump cuts him off and undermines him, pretending to know as much or more. Can you imagine going through this without someone like Fauci who is trying to get out the truth? Fauci is our only hope.

Just the Facts
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 9:33am

According to the article, "Ewald also loved to travel and was an active member of the Wayne County Republican Party." That's so sad. I hope Republicans start listening to people like you on the front line and comport themselves differently going forward.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 1:30pm

Don is right. If you are a nurse, put your full name.

To date, there are still eight states with Republican governors who are paralyzed with fear of upsetting Trump, waiting for him to tell them how to act. Yet Republicans in this state NOW claim Governor Whitmer didn't act fast enough. Such BS. She has to fight them constantly to do the right thing.

Godspeed to all our brave healthcare workers, first responders, and everyone helping us survive the scourge of COVID 19! RIP Lisa, you died a hero, a true patriot! We thank you for your service. You did what you loved to serve others and God will reward you I pray. God bless you!

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 10:50am

Paulette cannot be a nurse.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 9:33am

Placing the minority nurses at the end of the article was a bit dismissive, Bridge.

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 10:48am

We love all the healthcare workers! You sound like a Russian bot. Do you work for Moscow Mitch?

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 1:34pm

Click on something with no reference. No thanks.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 10:18am

These instance of unnecessary death of these wonderful heath care workers due to lack of PPE are horrifying and heart-sickening. What a tragedy. Read ECCL 12:11..."for lack of a nail.."

What an epic fail on the part if the federal govt. Not until 4/2/20 was the Defense Protection Act invoked. "Everyone who want a test can get a test" is a bald-faced lie. Pitting state and counties against other states and counties to find their own supplies has caused price gouging. Won't enact a national shutdown. Initial denial of this disease as anything be concerned about . All of this is stomach turning. The federal govt's deliberate, chaotic, and criminal response to this crises is killing people.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 10:46am

This is the saddest story I have ever read in my life. How can we put our healthcare people who are front line defenders of all of us, in jeopardy without the proper PPE and/or testing? The CDC doesn't report this to Americans, the CDC changes their position on N95 masks (because they don't have enough for every health care worker) so that not everyone being exposed gets a mask. The hospitals are in the middle of this mess without enough PPE to go around and the Federal Government in charge of the national stockpile is sitting on their supplies in case they need them. What kind of a fiasco are we witnessing? How can we not protect the people who are protecting us? Who will replace those who die? Why are nurses or doctors who complain about the lack of PPE (or bring their own and are not allowed to use them) fired! We need to use every piece of PPE available and provide our front line defenders with everything they need. No excuses, no finger pointing who's responsible, get it done! Our lives all depend on it.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 1:52pm

I agree with most of that. "No excuses, get it done! Our lives all depend on it." However it's a little too late for cumbaya. We can save lives and point fingers too. Otherwise nothing ever changes. Do you remember Sandy Hook? The insanity just keeps getting worse and Republicans are always on the wrong side of history with humanity on the other side.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 11:02am

I would submit an inquiry about why the first nurse in the story was not wearing a mask. Detroit hosptials received the vast majority of medical supplies out of the first shipments from the national stockpile over two weeks ago now. Beaumont has said nothing about not having any supplies, but are saying they need more likew all hospitals are. Unfortunately, even if the workers had ample supplies some are going to catch it and fall victim to it, due to the nature of this virus in particular. My heart goes out to the families of these people.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 1:46pm

I'll remember to ask them when they are trying to intubate me to save my life. Are you for real? You must not know anyone in the medical field or perhaps you just don't care.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 2:15pm

Jeff, this is the protocol many are following to protect supplies for those already in distress or working with patients who have already been diagnosed

connie malecek
Sat, 04/04/2020 - 11:57am

I lowered my flag to half mass in honor of those who are dying protecting us. I also lowered it to honor those who step up in their places and travel to work everyday. Let's thank them NOW. Would everyone consider doing the same AND sharing the message? Maybe we in Michigan can get the nation doing the same. I am leaving mine at half mass until our brave nurses, doctors, cashiers, truck drivers are no longer in danger!

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 12:34pm

As more information is being filter through the darkness. Most of the deaths from covid is found not just in people with underlying medical problems, but people who are living an unhealthy lifestyle. This includes obesity. And an unhealthy lifestyle doesn't exempt someone even if they may be a healthcare worker or politician or even the person who lives on the corner of your street , never goes anywhere but eating and smoking their face off. The obesity really makes sense to me as most do not have ability to breathe deeply restricting normal lung capacity and oxygenation. Lifestyles do have a heavily wieghted impact on our ability to fight sickness. Just because someone said they were healthy before they got sick really doesn't address lifestyle implications. If this is true I can partly understand the fear of the spread among unhealthy adults and why children, infants and young healthy adults are left on scave. I am sorry for anyone who loses their life prematurely.

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 10:59am

Perfectly healthy people are dying from COVID too, just not as much. Obesity probably doesn't help.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 1:32pm

Everyone who says don't be political is a Trump enabler who cares more about pleasing their leader than their fellow human beings. The US is becoming like North Korea.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 1:42pm

Is Trump saving 10,000 ventilators in the federal stockpile for his donors? Jared spoke about "our" ventilators. The "states have to get their own". Hmmmm "nasty questions from reporters", "bad tone". Where would we be without the media, if things are already THIS bad?

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 2:02pm

Beaumont health has their employees checking their temps and monitoring themselves for any exposure they have had which were not contacted for exposure were told everyone has been exposed. There is no quarantine just monitor.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 3:23pm

Why won't the president invoke the Defense Production Act across the board and end these shortages immediately? We are only at the beginning of this.

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 3:26pm

I didn't know the others, but Divinia 'Debbie' Accad was truly an angel. Rest in peace.

Health care worker
Sat, 04/04/2020 - 7:21pm

As a hospital employee at Beaumont Health, I have only been allowed to wear masks in the hospital for the last 1.5 weeks. Prior to that they did not allow it so as to not “raise concerns.” Additionally they are not testing employees with all the symptoms. Simply quarantining them. So no wonder there are only “a couple dozen.” A conflict of interest exists when they are not offering tests to the very people that would then have a worker’s compensation case. Please reach out to legislators on our behalf. Employees need priority testing for everyone’s well-being.

Beth Jacobs
Sun, 04/05/2020 - 2:58pm

Can the writer please provide the date of Aaron Gillingham's response?

- "A concerned Beaumont Health COVID nurse"