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Family Says Lansing Correctional Facility Worker Died This Week From COVID-19

George "Bernie" Robare, left, died of COVID-19 on May 11. He is the first prison employee in Kansas known to have died of the virus. He is pictured with his wife, Susan Robare of Bonner Springs.
Courtesy Rachel Robare
George "Bernie" Robare, left, died of COVID-19 on May 11. He is the first prison employee in Kansas known to have died of the virus. He is pictured with his wife, Susan Robare of Bonner Springs.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — A Kansas man who worked at a correctional facility where there are hundreds of COVID-19 cases died Monday from the virus. Three prisoners from the same facility have died in recent weeks.

George “Bernie” Robare, 61, had worked at the Lansing Correctional Facility in northeast Kansas for more than 35 years. His wife, Susan Robare, told the Kansas News Service that he woke up with a headache and a fever on April 22 and was tested for the coronavirus at the Wyandotte County Health Department.

His positive test result came back two days later, and George Robare was later admitted to Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, where he died Monday morning.

The Lansing Correctional Facility has one of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in Kansas, with 694 out of 1,700 inmates testing positive for the virus as of Monday. Almost 600 of those cases are asymptomatic. Three people who were incarcerated in the prison died of the virus — two over the age of 50 and one over the age of 60.

Almost 90 Lansing staff members have tested positive for the virus, and Robare, who was a corrections supervisor, is the first known death.

The Kansas Department of Corrections confirmed an employee of the Lansing prison died May 11, but did not provide the name.

“Our staff put themselves on the frontlines every day, but especially during this pandemic,” corrections secretary Jeff Zmuda said in an emailed statement. “We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and to those who worked alongside him for so many years."

Robare's wife said in a phone interview that he likely contracted the coronavirus at the prison.

“Once we came home, we never went anywhere,” she said.

She also said she and her husband felt the corrections department’s protections for staff were inadequate. The first cases at Lansing were in staffers, announced by the corrections department on March 31.

“They should have stepped up sooner,” Susan Robare said. “I feel that once we knew it was in the area, that things should have been handled differently.”

Their daughter, Rachel Robare, said she hoped people in the community would take the coronavirus more seriously.

“I feel like this has stolen something from me that I can’t get back, and people need to realize it’s not about you,” she said. “You have to protect the other people in this country.”

Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service. You can email her at nomin (at) kcur (dot) org and follow her on Twitter @NominUJ.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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