Family mourns, speaks out against the death of local COVID-19 victim

Local News

BINGHAMTON, NY – The family of Broome County’s first confirmed COVID-19 fatality is expressing alarm and frustration over how they were notified of the cause of their loved one’s death.

83 year-old Bill Polakovich of Johnson City died of the coronavirus Thursday evening while being treated at Lourdes Hospital.

He first started feeling sick on Tuesday, saw his primary care physician and was diagnosed with dehydration and sent home.

On Wednesday, his condition worsened, he became very weak and his family called 9-1-1 to have him taken to the hospital that evening.

His family says they were told that he died of double pneumonia that led to hypoxia, a condition in which the body is starved of oxygen.

His daughter, Lisa Gallagher, tells NewsChannel 34 that her family received a phone call from their funeral home Saturday morning at about 10:20 canceling an appointment they had scheduled for 11.

The funeral director informed the family that he had just received word from Lourdes that a test of Polakovich had come back positive and that they would likely need to enter mandatory quarantine.

Soon after, Gallagher called Lourdes and left a message looking for confirmation and to ask questions about how to keep her family safe and what precautions they should take.

They had been with Polakovich during the days prior to his becoming ill.

“For them, Lourdes Hospital, to call the funeral home before they even called the family, to tell me that he tested positive, is just wrong. It’s wrong,” says Gallagher.

The funeral director tells NewsChannel 34 that Lourdes Hospital’s standard protocol is to cease having direct communication with a deceased person’s family and to communicate directly with a funeral home when necessary after a body has been transferred there.

Lourdes would not confirm whether that is its policy, but provided the following statement: “During this unprecedented time, all of our policies and procedures are being reviewed and modified to meet the needs of our patients, associates and community.”

Gallagher says it wasn’t until around noon that they finally heard from the health department, which asked them questions about Polakovich’s movements and instructed them to go into quarantine, which they have.

However, she says the amount of information shared by the health department has been insufficient and she believes county officials should be doing more to reach out to them.

“It’s crazy. Someone should have been here from the health department and saw who we are, asked if we need anything, told us exactly. She told us to wipe down the counter. With what?” says Gallagher.

Spokespersons for the county say health officials have a policy of making daily telephone contact with people under quarantine, providing all of their standard guidance and checking on their well-being.

They say they also send out safety information through the mail.

Meghan Gallagher says she’s grateful that she had an opportunity to say goodbye to her grandfather.

“I was with him on Tuesday and we were together. And 48 hours later, he’s just gone. I think that’s what everyone is so shocked about is that my grandfather was a healthy guy,” says Meghan.

Bill Polakovich grew up in Endicott and was a lifelong resident of the Triple Cities.

Gallagher says he ran his own accounting office and was a committed family man who enjoyed working on his yard and going on vacation.

He leaves behind his wife of 59 years, Sandy Polakovich, 3 children and 4 grandchildren.

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