Lander COVID-19 Patient Was Initially Passed Over For Testing

Mar 20, 2020

Credit Loring Schaible

One of Fremont County's nine confirmed COVID-19 patients went to SageWest Health Care in Lander last week, but was sent home without being tested for the disease. That's according to the patient's daughter, who said her mother began showing symptoms, including a severe cough, that same week. 

Last Friday, March 13, Tesla Meyer said that her mother, a 63-year-old resident of Lander's Showboat Retirement Center, took the Lander Senior Citizens Center bus to an appointment at St. John's Medical Clinic in Lander. She was then sent to SageWest Health Care. When her mother called for a ride home from that hospital, Meyer asked if the doctors had administered a coronavirus test.

"She said 'Well no, they said I have an infection in my lungs or in my chest, and they gave me antibiotics,'" Meyer said.

That night, the Wyoming Department of Health announced that an older man in Fremont County had tested positive for COVID-19.

"Since they sent her home from the hospital without testing her, I wasn't worried about her having the coronavirus, really. I trusted them to test her if they needed to," Meyer said.

On Saturday morning, Meyer learned from a friend that the Fremont County case was believed to be a Showboat Retirement Center resident. When she called the facility, Showboat was on lockdown and state health officials were on their way to conduct an investigation.

Meyer said those officials gave her mother a nasal swab test on Saturday afternoon, and that she spent the next several days calling Showboat, SageWest, and the Wyoming Department of Health asking for her mother's test results. It wasn't until Tuesday morning that a Showboat employee confirmed that the test had come back positive. According to Meyer, the Wyoming Department of Health never contacted her to confirm her mother's test results.

"My mom has the coronavirus, and I had to jump through hoops to find that out," Meyer said.

Meyer's mother is one of eight Showboat Retirement Center residents or staff members confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. On Friday morning, the Wyoming Department of Health confirmed that Fremont County's ninth confirmed case was directly related to the Showboat cluster. Meyer's mother is among four COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in isolation at SageWest Health Care.

According to state health officials, Wyoming's capacity to test for COVID-19 is limited. State Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti told Wyoming Public Media that decisions about which patients to test lie with medical providers, and that they're focusing on those who are showing clear symptoms and are at great risk.

"People who are connected with long term care facilities, that's one of the strongest examples. People who are hospitalized with an unexplained illness and symptoms consistent. Those kind of things," Deti said, adding that the state health lab in Cheyenne should be able to get test results back to patients in the same day.

Meyer said that hospital staff at SageWest decided not to test her mother because she was not running a fever at the time of her visit. A spokesperson for SageWest said that the hospital is unable to comment on the case out of concern for patient privacy.

"SageWest Health Care is working diligently to protect our community during this time. We are working closely with the Wyoming Department of Health and following the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," SageWest Marketing and Communications Director Lindsey Anderson wrote in an email. "Per CDC guidelines, our clinicians use their best judgement to determine if a patient currently has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested."

It's not clear how Meyer's mother, who has not left Lander in nearly two years, contracted COVID-19. But Meyer said it's likely that she exposed others on the senior center bus, at St. John's Clinic, at Sagewest Health Care, and within the Showboat Retirement Center.

"I mean, she was sick with a cough. She didn't have a fever at the time […] But she touched the door handle at a hospital, where sick people with low immunities are coming in and out of," Meyer said.

Go here for a full interview with Tesla Meyer.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.