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Kan. corrections officer dies from COVID-19

George Bernard Robare, 61, who was four years from retirement, spent 36 years working in corrections

By Katie Bernard
The Kansas City Star

LANSING, Kan. — When Susan Robare learned on April 24 that her husband, a corrections officer at the prison in Lansing, had tested positive for the new coronavirus she had a gut feeling that he wouldn’t survive.

“I think because his body’s been through so much I just felt it,” she said.

In the past 10 years her husband, 61-year-old George “Bernie” Robare, had survived leukemia and a disease that caused him to have his esophagus removed. And when she was treated for breast cancer, he stayed by her side.

He was a “fighter,” she said, but COVID-19 made him sicker than she’d ever seen him.

During the final weeks, Susan Robare wasn’t able to see her husband and was hardly able to speak with him, she said. After weeks in the hospital he died Monday.

Now Susan Robare is pleading with people to take the virus seriously and not treat it like “just the flu.”

“Unless they have somebody affected by this they have no clue,” Susan Robare said. “They have no clue how it’s destroying lives.”

George Robare was the first Kansas Department of Corrections Employee to die of the virus. Officials confirmed Tuesday that an employee had died. They did not confirm the employee’s identity.

“Our staff put themselves on the frontlines every day, but especially during this pandemic,” said Kansas Department of Corrections Secretary Jeff Zmuda said. “We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and to those who worked alongside him for so many years. This is an extremely sad day and one that we hoped would never come.”

As of Monday, 88 employees and 694 inmates at the Lansing prison had tested positive for COVID-19.

Three inmates have died according to Kansas Department of Corrections data.

According to data kept by The New York Times the Lansing Correctional Facility’s outbreak of coronavirus is the 13th largest cluster of cases in the country.

Response at Lansing

Susan Robare is certain her husband contracted COVID-19 while working as a corrections specialist at the Lansing Correctional Facility.

“We never went anywhere,” she said.

George Robare, she said, had worked for the Department of Corrections for more than 35 years. The former Marine was from Lansing and was drawn to the job because of the order.

George, she said, never spoke to her about his concerns about the virus. She thinks that’s because she was already worried.

Susan Robare said she was concerned that visitation to the jail wasn’t closed quick enough, that the prison wasn’t monitoring employees closely enough and that the Department of Corrections took too long to provide staff with masks.

“I think he may have worked with somebody (who had the virus) and was not notified and not told to self-quarantine,” Susan Robare said.

On Monday, Gov. Laura Kelly said that from the beginning of the pandemic the Department of Corrections had implemented safety protocols to protect inmates and staff, including the use of personal protective equipment and separating inmates to contain the spread of the virus.

Still, she appeared to acknowledge some contact and exposure was inevitable.

“Prisons are what they are,” Kelly said. “By their very nature, you have a lot of people living in close contact.”

Progression of COVID-19

On April 22 George Robare ran a 101-degree fever. Susan Robare brought him to be tested and had him quarantined in the bedroom.

“Every day he didn’t feel like eating and it got progressively worse,” she said. “He complained of a constant headache that Tylenol would not take care of.”

He was admitted to the hospital on April 28 because he was experiencing shortness of breath. Susan Robare never saw him again.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Susan Robare said. “I was constantly on edge.”

She said she spoke to him for the last time on May 2. She told him to keep fighting so that he could walk his daughter, Rachel, down the aisle at her wedding the next year.

Shortness of breath made it hard to speak, but she said he told her that that was his plan.

George Robare was put on a ventilator three days later, making it impossible to speak. He died less than a week after that.

He was a quiet man, Susan Robare said. But family was very important to him and he showed his love through gentle teasing.

“It can happen to anybody,” said Robare’s daughter, Rachel Robare. “He may have had these underlying conditions but he was an overall healthy guy up until this point. And he didn’t let having leukemia stop him. He didn’t let having issues with his esophagus stop him. He wanted to keep fighting.”


©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)