Community Activist Can't Get Care for COVID-19-Damaged Heart Due to Positive Tests

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A community activist who tested positive for COVID-19 in early May needs surgery because of how the disease impacted his heart, but cracks in the health care system left him without the care he needs.

Ron Weiss, 76, was symptom-free when he tested positive for the coronavirus but soon he felt the impact. The virus attacked his heart and Southern Maryland Hospital sent him to Washington Hospital Center in D.C.

“He had started there; they had no room for him. So they sent him to Southern Maryland, which is a step down,” said his wife, Georgette. “It's a lower-tier hospital and that didn't work, so he was back to Washington Hospital Center.”

Almost 70 days later, Weiss is in BridgePoint Nursing and Rehab on Capitol Hill for physical therapy to prepare him for open heart surgery due to the damage from COVID-19. Though he doesn’t have symptoms, he continues to test positive for the coronavirus, so he wasn’t getting therapy, which means no surgery.

“Multiple organs in my dad's body have been damaged from this virus, and he's just sitting and waiting,” said Cathryn Weiss-Bigler, Weiss’ daughter.  

Professor Michael Urban, an occupational therapist with the University of New Haven, said COVID positive or not, Weiss should be getting the physical and occupational therapy he needs for surgery and the medical industry has guidelines for how to do that. But it costs resources and manpower that some smaller medical providers don't have.

Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia

COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

“We look at these small nursing homes, a lot of them are actually struggling to get by,” he said. “Medicare keeps cutting back on reimbursements, insurance companies keep cutting back how much they are paying and costs keep going up.”

Weiss is a civil and electrical engineer retired from the Air Force and a former defense contractor who’s made a good life for himself. Urban said the health care crack he's fallen into is not just due to COVID.

“These gaps have been there. I think what you are just seeing is this virus is really putting a spotlight on it because everyone is actually looking at every nuance of health care,” he said.

“Doctors, they are supposed to treat patients,” Weiss-Bigler said. “They’re not supposed to warehouse them.”

Somewhere in between testing and a cure are people like Weiss — stuck in the middle waiting.

“My organs are degrading because I can't get physical therapy like I should, and I can't receive appropriate care when every second counts to help me save my life,” he said.

Weiss said he is concerned not so much for himself but for other people, especially those who don't have health insurance that's as good as his.

After News4 spoke with BridgePoint about Weiss' case, he got his first full physical therapy session on Thursday and a doctor there is coordinating his care for the first time.

His family believes that since he has not shown COVID-19 symptoms for weeks, the nasal swab tests he's been getting are reporting false positives. News4 asked if the facility can provide an alternative COVID-19 test but did not receive a response.

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