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Families of sick Coral Princess passengers stuck at PortMiami plead for hospital care
Miami Herald - 4/6/2020
Apr. 5--Family members of sick passengers still stuck on board the Coral Princess at PortMiami Sunday say their loved ones urgently need hospital care as their health deteriorates.
The death of a passenger who was left out of the ship's initial emergency evacuation of critical-ill people Saturday prompted more aggressive action Sunday, according to county representatives. Miami-Dade'sJackson hospital system sent a team to assess severely ill Princess passengers, and county paramedics were dispatched to the port to assist, said Myriam Marquez, communications director for Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
"The mayor has been very clear. We want to help as much as we can," Marquez said. "But we also don't want to overwhelm the system."
Shortly after 4:00 p.m. county ambulances and fire trucks were seen outside the Coral Princess. The director of the port, Juan Kuryla, stood by on the phone. The efforts upended Miami-Dade's plan for a stable situation on the Carnival Corporation-owned ship after allowing the vessel to dock at Port Miami Saturday and clearing out people deemed critically ill. The plan was for healthy passengers to leave Sunday, but for dozens of sick crew and passengers to remain aboard under quarantine and be treated by the ship's medical crew.
On Saturday, five people were transferred to hospitals in Miami and Tampa after the ship docked in Miami with at least 12 cases of COVID-19 on board. A sixth person, Wilson Maa, 71, waited nearly five hours on board the ship Saturday evening before an ambulance responded to his family's desperate calls for a rescue -- including efforts they described to have 911 send help. Maa died later that night at Larkin Community Hospital in Hialeah.
A spokesperson for the county-owned port, Andria Muniz-Amador, said she was in touch with Carnival Corp. shortly after the Miami Herald inquired about Maa's fate aboard the Princess on Saturday evening. "We were on the phone immediately, letting Carnival know we were alarmed," Muniz-Amador said. She said the company described Maa as not in immediate danger. "That's what I kept hearing from the line: That he was stable."
Maa was the third Coral Princess passenger to die after two passed away on the ship Friday evening. On Sunday morning, more families pleaded with the cruise company and local authorities to get their loved ones off the ship and into hospitals.
Prior to the ship's arrival, Carnival Corp., which owns Princess Cruises, planned to immediately medically evacuate six Coral Princess passengers, according to an agreement between the company and Miami-Dade County provided to the Herald, and estimated up to six more passengers may need to be hospitalized.
The agreement shows the company had secured four hospital beds at Larkin Community Hospital and confirmed more than 24 beds were available between Larkin, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, and AdventHealth Orlando.
Two passengers were evacuated to Larkin Saturday and three to St. Joseph's.
Princess Cruises did not respond to requests for comment about why Maa had to wait so long to be evacuated on Saturday, despite those plans. Marquez, the Gimenez spokeswoman, said Miami-Dade was not told there was an issue with available beds for the ship. "We were never told they could not handle that," she said.
Maa's death sparked a demand by a Miami congresswoman for a local investigation into the circumstances that led him to be kept aboard while other passengers were removed Saturday. "It's devastating and exasperating that we will never know if Mr. Maa's death could have been prevented with a swift and urgent medical response that this situation deserved," Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, said in a statement.
Gimenez, who oversees the port and told reporters he didn't want to critically ill Princess passengers trapped at sea, is running in the Republican primary to challenge Mucarsel-Powell in November.
The circumstances of Maa's remaining on the Princess, and the rules governing the removal other passengers, remains hazy. The docking agreement includes discrepancies from what the company has said publicly about the situation on board. It says six passengers and six crew members tested positive for COVID-19; the company said Thursday that seven passengers and five crew members tested positive.
The ship doctor told Maa's family Saturday night that Toyling Maa, Wilson's wife, might need to be hospitalized as well at some point.
On Sunday at 11:40 a.m., Julia Maa tweeted that her mother Toyling had been waiting for an ambulance for over an hour. She begged the company, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a private ambulance company, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Florida's Surgeon.
As of 5 p.m., Maa's family said she is in a Miami-Dade hospital.
Other passengers fear similar wait times could put them in a dangerous situation.
Leonor Stricker said her in laws, who are both sick, were separated Saturday on board the Coral Princess. Her mother-in-law, Cathie Bryan, who tested positive for COVID-19, doesn't have a phone charger and Stricker has not been able to get in touch with her.
"We are worried that they are not getting the needed medical treatment and assessments on board," Sticker said.
Eddie Bryan, Cathie's husband, told his family Sunday morning that Cathie was being sent to a hospital in Orlando, but when the family called Princess Cruises for more information they were told the company had none.
"They had absolutely no information on her," Stricker said.
At 5 p.m., Stricker said Cathie was hospitalized.
Paul Nahm said his parents, 72-year-old Grace Nahm and 71-year-old Peter Nahm, haven't received medical attention on board since Friday. He hasn't been able to reach anyone at Princess Cruises since Friday evening, despite bombarding the company with tweets and phone calls.
Peter has COVID-19 and Grace is awaiting test results but has a fever and a cough. On Friday, Paul said a crew member tried to separate his parents and said if they didn't agree to move to different rooms they'd have to sign a waiver releasing the ship from providing them medical care.
The couple did not separate and were not provided a waiver to sign.
"Take them to staterooms where they can be cared for. Do not bully them, please," Paul wrote in a Twitter direct message to a Princess representative.
Earlier in the week, Paul said his dad needed an IV for hydration but wasn't able to get one because the ship's infirmary was too full.
Paul has taken to Twitter to contact the company and criticize them for responding publicly to tweets about a potential economic bailout and not to him or his family.
"@PrincessCruises if i mention bailouts, will it quickly draw your attention and then you will send medical to check on my parents?," he tweeted.
Another family member of a sick passenger, Betsy Ingraham, was also tweeting at the company Sunday morning for help.
"My mother is covid + with pneumonia and on oxygen this morning yet still not transferred to hospital, despite @PrincessCruises own medical staff saying she needs to go. What will it take to get our families medical attention?," she wrote.
The plan between Carnival Corp. and Miami-Dade county says the ship has four doctors, four nurses and three ventilators on board.
This is a developing story and will update.
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