PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 84-year-old John Hartwell Williams was known as “Hush Puppy” around town.

(Photo courtesy: Family)

Back in the ’80s, the former U.S. Marine worked as a distributor for House Autry food products, which delivered to the region’s seafood restaurants. The cornmeal-based products are used to batter seafood and to make bite-sized hushpuppies — seasoned cornmeal nuggets — that are deep-fried and served as appetizers.

Williams convinced his employer to cut a deal with a supermarket chain that could make the products available for consumers. The retail operation was a success, and Williams later opened his own company named Oceanside Food Products.

Over the years, the former Marine also mentored people from all walks of life. Amy, his wife of 59 years, said it was not unusual to find strangers sleeping on the couch.

“He got a lot of people back on their feet. If they lost their job, they came here. If they got hooked on drugs, they came here. If they were going through a divorce, they came here,” said his daughter, Kristie Chappell.

(Photo courtesy: Family)

Williams mentored people in need, from an orphan in Romania, to drug addicts on the streets of Portsmouth.

“Our house truly looked like heaven. There were so many races, creed, color, nationality and languages,” said Chappell.

But for all Williams accomplished in his life and all those he helped, his family is now left with concerns about his final days on Earth.

On Sunday, Jan. 3, Williams collapsed at home and was taken to a medical facility in Suffolk where he was diagnosed with COVID-19. He was later transferred to Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, where family visits are not allowed because of the highly contagious virus. He was able to talk to loved ones via Zoom teleconference. He was placed on oxygen and was left in restraints for two weeks, according to family members.

Williams’ daughter, Chappell, is a registered nurse.

“They had put him in five-point restraint which is both wrists, both ankles, and your waist or thoracic area,” said Chappell.

During his video chats with loved ones, he expressed concern about his treatment at the hospital.

“He said on a Zoom call ‘I have never been treated like this in my life, they are manhandling. I have not had anything to drink in days’, and he was crying, which I had never seen him cry before. And he said ‘If you and mom do not get me out of here, I’m gonna die,’” said Chappell.

He told his family he couldn’t believe a Marine would be treated the way he was.

(Photo courtesy: Family)

Because Chappell is a registered nurse, she had hoped the hospital would have allowed her to tend to her father, who described the oxygen tubes as irritating. Family members say they were even willing to sign liability releases if that would have cleared the way for them to sit by Williams’ side.

Williams died Friday night around 5:30 p.m. while family members were attending funeral services for a loved one.

“The medical team and several of the nurses did their absolute best, this is not about that. This is about the policies that kept us out and kept him restrained,” said Chappell.

Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center, like most hospitals and medical facilities, has strict policies concerning visitation. In response to questions asked by 10 On Your Side, a spokewoman issued a detailed statement that describes the policy and also offers sympathy to families affected by the pandemic.

The spokeswoman said the hospital cannot comment on any specifics about a particular patient’s death.

For the benefit of other families, what is policy on visitation for COVID-19 patients?

“For the health of our patients, visitors, health care providers and communities, Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center has not allowed COVID-19 positive patients any visitors since the start of the pandemic. We ask that people do not visit our facilities, including senior services and long-term care locations. For mother/baby and pediatric patients, visitors are limited to a designated partner or primary caretaker/guardian (only one at a time). Exceptions will be considered based on end-of-life situations for non-COVID patients or when a visitor is essential for the patient’s emotional well-being and care.

“We recognize that this can be disappointing to our visitors and patients, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our patients or their families. The health of our patients and associates is our top priority.”

What is the policy regarding family access to the hospital once a patient has died?

“At Bon Secours it is our Mission to care for those in need, especially people who are poor, dying and underserved. We are deeply saddened when a patient of ours passes away. To protect patient privacy, and to support the family of the deceased, we do not release information about patient deaths. 

“We offer spiritual care and bereavement support to the families and loved one of the deceased, which is part of our ministry’s compassionate care that permeates all levels of service and care for our patients, residents, associates and communities. 

“Since Mid-March we have solidified processes and protocols, in alignment with national and local agencies, between our hospitals and funeral directors specific to COVID-19 patient deaths. These include verbal and written protocols. We collaborate and work directly with the funeral homes, and will continue to do so.”

A floating viewing for Williams will be held Wednesday, Jan. 20 at Living Waters Christian Fellowship at 2700 Gum Road in Chesapeake from 3-6:30 p.m. It will be followed by a funeral service at 7 p.m.

Sturtevant Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

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