MESA, AZ — A Valley veteran passed away Monday in Banner Desert's COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit, less than two weeks after being discharged from both the hospital and a long-term care facility.
Sam Cantrell was 80-years-old.
Cantrell's family says he had underlying health conditions and was hospitalized in mid-December due to complications with diabetes.
After recovering, he needed to rehab - so he was transferred to Montecito Post Acute Care and Rehabilitation in Mesa.
His brother, Richard, tells ABC15 that after roughly five days Sam was released from the facility.
"He was making some improvement," said Richard. "They told us the day he would be released. So we left [San Antonio] Texas to drive to Mesa."
Richard would later learn that Sam needed more time rehabilitating, but was not allowed to stay.
"The facility had asked for additional time for rehab and it was denied by his insurance company. So they released him," said Richard.
"The insurance company sent a letter to his home, but he wasn’t there to receive it," said Sam's close friend Renee. "Basically, [they said] okay there’s no more coverage so we have to kick him out. That’s not right, especially when someone was still very ill and should’ve been sent back to the hospital."
It is unclear if the facility noticed Sam's deteriorating condition when they sent him home, but hours after being picked up by his brother, Sam was in the emergency room.
"My first reaction seeing him [was] he shouldn’t be coming home," said Richard. "He couldn't move much and had thrown up...He didn’t make it through the night before we were calling EMS."
When Sam got to Banner Desert they tested him for COVID-19 and found he was positive.
"The facility probably didn’t know [he had COVID]," said Richard. "But my question would be, why would any facility release someone in the condition that he was in?"
Richard is now in quarantine after experiencing multiple symptoms in the days after caring for his brother.
The cough and concern for his own health were afterthoughts though, as his brother languished in the ICU, hooked up to breathing machines.
The older brother recalled his final conversation with Sam, not long before he passed.
"Even though my brother couldn’t talk to me...[a nurse] held the phone up to his ear and I got to talk to him," said Richard. "I imagine he heard my voice. I don’t know."
"I just told him I loved him, and we’re thinking about you. And we’re here. We know you can’t talk to us but we’re here for you."
It is unclear when and where Sam contracted COVID-19.
ABC15 has reached out, multiple times, to Montecito Post Acute Care and Rehabilitation for comment about their testing procedures, discharge policies, and current precautions following Sam's hospitalization. We will update this story if we hear back.