Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Bob Warren and his wife, Barbara, took all the precautions.
They quarantined at their home in Los Lunas. They had their family buy them groceries and put their packages in the sun after delivery to ward off the coronavirus.
Warren took an obligatory pre-surgery COVID-19 virus test and got the green light to undergo an outpatient cardiac procedure July 1 after he tested negative.
But just days after the successful heart catheterization at the Heart Hospital of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Warren began feeling ill, running a fever of 103.5. He took a second test for COVID-19, which came back positive.
But by then, he had unknowingly exposed his wife to the virus.
Warren, 77, died of COVID-19 on Monday, two days after his wife of 44 years lost her battle with the same infection. She was 84.
Warren was among more than 100 patients who may have been exposed during what the state Department of Health reported as a coronavirus outbreak among four health care workers from the New Mexico Heart Institute in early July. Among those was Warren’s cardiologist, Dr. Charles Kim, who Warren’s family said performed the cardiac catheterization.
How many patients contracted COVID-19 or suffered serious medical complications from the exposure hasn’t been disclosed by the DOH or Lovelace Health System, which owns the Heart Institute and the nearby Heart Hospital. Officials cite federal health privacy laws.
Meanwhile, Kim has been hospitalized since early July in intensive care, according to his sister’s social media posts.
Albuquerque resident Bill Nevins said he was “absolutely stunned” and cried when he learned his longtime friend had tested positive for the virus.
“He was angry, but I think just at the terrible irony of it all,” Nevins told the Journal last week. “He had gotten infected when he went in to be treated.”
The couple’s chronic health conditions – he had cardiac problems and she had multiple medical issues – left them more susceptible to the deadly virus, but had never got them down for long, Nevins said.
In the end, however, “COVID basically pushed both of them over the edge,” said Nevins, who himself has been in semi-isolation in a cabin in Angel Fire since April to keep from catching the virus.
The family of Bob and Barbara Warren contends Lovelace didn’t provide adequate notice of the outbreak to Bob.
Daughter-in-law Sharon Jonas said Bob never got a call notifying him he had been exposed – unlike some patients interviewed by the Journal who were called the day after DOH received word of the first positive COVID test of the physician.
Jonas said her family has been “devastated every day by the events of the last four weeks.”
The cardiac procedure on July 1 was successful, she told the Journal. But when her father-in-law began experiencing symptoms of the virus beginning the week of July 6, “His first response was to call the Heart Institute.
“He was told he would receive a call back that day and did not,” she said.
Bob Warren called the Heart Institute again the next day “and was informed at that time about possible exposure from a staff member,” she said. But he wasn’t told that Dr. Kim had tested positive.
Jonas said family members believe her father-in-law should have been notified on July 5 or July 6 at the latest that he had been exposed.
“Instead Bob and Barbara were forced to fight COVID-19 on their own without advance notice,” she said. “Earlier notice could have prevented any exposure to Barbara and safer practices at Lovelace likely would have prevented exposure to Bob from the very beginning.”
Lovelace officials have told the Journal that instead of waiting for DOH contact tracers to inform those exposed and quarantine, Lovelace performed its own contact tracing. Two of those contacted, interviewed by the Journal, said they received phone calls about their possible exposure on Monday, July 6.
DOH spokesman David Morgan told the Journal last week, “As soon as Lovelace management was aware of the potential for exposure, Lovelace notified and tested its staff, identified exposed patients and made phone calls to notify them of the exposure and give them direction on quarantine and monitoring for symptoms. Patients exposed have been referred to DOH for active monitoring.”
Jonas said that “from the beginning, they (her in-laws) did everything right and took the virus very seriously.
“We hope that our family’s loss can serve as a reminder of how devastating it can be for any person, or any organization to let their guard down about this virus. We all have a responsibility to each other, and that includes Lovelace,” Jonas said.
On Friday, Lovelace spokeswoman Whitney Marquez told the Journal in an email, “In order to protect the confidentiality and privacy of our patients and employees, we cannot comment on patient health information. We work very closely with the New Mexico Department of Health to identify individuals with potential exposure.
“The coronavirus is highly contagious and continues to spread throughout the community, making it difficult to determine how or where individuals become infected.”
She added: “We are committed to adhering to all state and organizational guidance toward the protection of our patients, visitors, staff, and community. Patient safety is our priority.”
Advocate for the poor
Warren was a poet, Nevins said, a union man, and a lifelong advocate for the poor and the disenfranchised. He served as assistant director of the Albuquerque Storehouse in the 1990s, and as the resource director for Habitat for Humanity in Valencia County. Before that, he worked for a “poverty church” in Houston.
He and his wife, Barbara, left behind three generations of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who called her “Baba” and him “Papa Bob,” according to their obituaries.
Nevins said he met R.B. “Bob” Warren about 20 years ago in a University of New Mexico creative writing class Nevins was teaching. Warren, a student, showed up with a complete book of poetry he had written. The two became good friends.
In reviewing Warren’s book of poetry, “Litanies Not Adopted,” on Amazon.com, Nevins wrote in part, “Warren has lived through real struggle on the factory floor, in the streets, and among those whom too many poets, and too many of us out here in the harsh world, ignore: the poor, the angry, the lost.”
Warren spent years in Detroit, helping fight racial injustice and was committed to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, Nevins said.
“We shared an ironic view of the world,” Nevins said. In a final phone conversation from his hospital bed, Warren asked Nevins to write an “elegy or eulogy for him and share it – the love in it – with the poor. That is a Bob kind of thing to ask. I did so.”
While Warren and his wife, Barbara, were fighting COVID-19 at Lovelace Hospital, cardiologist Dr. Charles Kim was in the ICU struggling for his life, according to posts by his sister Sharon on Facebook.
Lovelace officials have told the Journal they don’t know the source of the infection at the Heart Institute.
Kim, a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Medical School, is an interventional cardiologist with the Heart Institute’s medical group, which was purchased by Lovelace in 2018.
A woman who answered a Journal call to Kim’s home in Albuquerque in mid-July declined an interview.
The DOH has confirmed that after Lovelace reported a positive test of a physician on Sunday, July 5, three other employees at the Heart Institute subsequently tested positive. The agency said on July 9 that the doctor was in his 50s and was hospitalized in intensive care.
According to Kim’s sister’s Facebook page, he had been diagnosed with the virus, hospitalized by July 6 and had been on and off a ventilator since then. While her friends offered support and prayers, she wrote last week that her brother was getting better but that the last two weeks, “have been a roller coaster.”
Efforts by the Journal to reach Sharon Kim weren’t successful.
After he was hospitalized July 11, Bob Warren ended up on a ventilator. Barbara Warren started exhibiting symptoms after her husband went into the hospital and was admitted to Lovelace Medical Center on July 20, her family said.
They were on different hospital floors, and their family said Bob never knew his wife had also been hospitalized.
Nevins recalled that in their last phone conversation, Bob Warren described “a horrible night at home when symptoms rapidly escalated to where he could not breathe, and was taken to Lovelace the next morning or so.”
Nevins said the last thing Bob said to him was that “he felt tired and needed sleep and, of course, he told me he loved me and my wife/partner Jeannie and he God-blessed us. We managed to get a few laughs into our brief chat, as we usually did.”
Sharon Jonas said her in-laws “were amazing loving people, committed to helping others, to supporting social justice matters.”
Even before Warren contracted the virus, he was highly critical of the federal government’s response to the virus, but supported the state efforts, Nevins said.
No memorial services are planned at this time because of the continuing COVID-19 threat, but may occur in the future, Jonas said.
Nevins said he emailed the elegy he wrote to his friend but doesn’t know if Warren ever read it. Here’s an excerpt:
“Bob abides. Bob never hides. Bob may go, but Bob is here, right here. We know.”