The Potluck

Lawmakers hear a respiratory therapist’s struggle when her father died from COVID-19

By: - September 9, 2020 1:19 pm

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, during a virtual hearing.

Haweya Farah, a respiratory therapist experienced with Minnesota’s health care system, shared her struggles as she tried to advocate for her father after he contracted COVID-19 in April. 

Farah, who previously worked for M Health Fairview, testified Wednesday during a Minnesota House Select Committee hearing on the state’s pandemic response. At one point, fighting through tears, she shared how her father, a 74-year-old school hall monitor, succumbed to the disease. 

He spent his final days at M Health Fairview Bethesda Hospital’s COVID-19 unit, where Farah said his care team included a rotating cast of nurses and doctors who she said struggled to answer her questions, leaving her frustrated. She said she received resistance when she questioned his treatment plan. 

“Knowing and working in the critical care units for many years, I knew the quality of care he was receiving was poor,” she told lawmakers. “I was personally silenced and was told many times just to be the daughter, and not the clinician.”

The panel, chaired by House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, met for about 90 minutes to review the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on people of color in Minnesota. 

Minnesota Department of Health data show that Black Minnesotans have higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 compared with white Minnesotans. Weekly health department data through Sep. 3 showed that Black and Native American Minnesotans face the highest rates of death compared with white Minnesotans: Black and Native American Minnesotans have experienced 112 and 154 deaths, respectively, per 100,000 cases, according to the data. 

The panel also heard from medical experts, including Dr. Beth Thielen and Dr. Dimitri Drekonja from Minnesota Doctors for Health Equity; Dr. Farhiya Farah, director of public health programs for Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota; Stella Whitney-West, chief executive officer of NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center; and Dr. Brian Yablon, a physician at Hennepin County Medical Center. 

The committee formed earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and lawmakers intend to introduce legislation to address issues discussed during recent meetings.

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Haweya Farah as a current employee of M Health Fairview, where she worked until March 2019, a hospital spokesman confirmed.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.