Portsmouth family bids farewell to former police officer, a COVID-19 patient, during Zoom call

Investigative

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Vietnam veteran Garland Butler spent 40 years in law enforcement, first as a police officer and then as a sheriff’s deputy for the City of Portsmouth.

On Jan. 22, officers from around the region who knew Garland joined mourners as Garland Butler was laid to rest.

(Photo Courtesy: Betty Butler)

At his Churchland home, presents meant for Garland Butler are still under a Christmas tree and Christmas decorations are still on display outside the home.

Betty, his wife of 29 years, is trying to figure out life without him.

Garland Butler, at 74 years old, had a reflux-related condition, but otherwise was in good shape.

Butler was working in his yard Christmas Eve when he began to feel warm. Over a period of days, he began to feel ill. Neighbors, who are medical school students, convinced the former police officer to seek medical attention.

Garland Butler was admitted to Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center on Jan. 3, where he underwent treatment for COVID-19 pneumonia.

“He was my world, my life, and the love of my life. He just loved life. He loved people. He never met a stranger,” Betty Butler said.

Because of the pandemic, most hospitals don’t allow visitors near COVID-19 treatment areas. The hospital sets up Zoom teleconference visits for families.

Initially, the visits were pleasant. Garland Butler was able to exchange pleasantries and even blow a kiss after getting a convalescent plasma treatment. But a few days later, his condition deteriorated. The family says he told them nurses, on two occasions, told him that he was going to die.

“They told him he was going to die, and he called me crying and wondered was he going to die?” said Betty Butler.

She says she then sought to verify her husband’s account of what happened.

“And then we asked about it and one of the nurses said ‘We have to do something to get their attention when they are having a panic attack, we have to do something to get their attention,'” said Betty Butler.

Then on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 14, family members say a representative from the hospital told them to prepare for a Zoom meeting that would connect from Garland Butler’s hospital room to the family’s home.

“They called me to have the Zoom set up and we were on Zoom when he died,” said Betty Butler.

The Butler family never requested access to Garland Butler’s room at Maryview Medical Center, but another Portsmouth family, the Williams family, had a different approach.

84-year-old John “Hush Puppy’ Williams’ daughter, a registered nurse, says she contacted hospital officials days before her father also died from COVID-19.

Kristie Chappell was willing to suit up in personal protective equipment and sign a liability waiver in order to sit by her father’s side to offer support. According to Chappell, the request was denied because of safety concerns.

Garland Butler died at Maryview on Jan. 14, and Williams died on Jan. 15. Both families reached out to 10 On Your Side to make other families aware of what they could expect when a loved one is dying or has died from COVID-19.

Chappell says the hospital’s visitation policy as posted on its website was inconsistent with the statement Maryview issued to 10 On Your Side in last week’s coverage of the Williams case.

“I believe he would be alive today had I been allowed to go by their policy, their written policy,” said Chappell.

This is a portion of the statement issued to 10 On Your Side on Jan. 18, 2021:

“For the health of our patients, visitors, health care providers and communities, Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center has not allowed COVID-19 positive patients any visitors since the start of the pandemic. We ask that people do not visit our facilities, including senior services and long-term care locations. For mother/baby and pediatric patients, visitors are limited to a designated partner or primary caretaker/guardian (only one at a time). Exceptions will be considered based on end-of-life situations for non-COVID patients or when a visitor is essential for the patient’s emotional well-being and care.

“We recognize that this can be disappointing to our visitors and patients, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our patients or their families. The health of our patients and associates is our top priority.”

After 10 On Your Side interviewed the Butler and William families, the visitation policy on the hospital’s website was edited to specify that end-of-life visitation does not include visits for COVID-19 patients.

Monday evening, Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center issued a statement in response to 10 On Your Side’s coverage of the Williams and Butler families.

Our hearts go out to families facing the loss of a loved one.

We welcome feedback on how we can clarify information on our website to help families understand our visitation policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our care teams also work closely with patients and their loved ones on any questions or needs they may have about our visitation policies.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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