A Liberian Mother’s Anguish: Liberian Woman Decries Poor Health System That Contributed to Daughter’s Death


Monrovia – As a healthcare worker in Staten Island, the United States of America, Oretha Bestman-Yates always had an eye for the happenings in her homeland, Liberia.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected], Bettie Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]

“The thing now is JFK. How can you turn away children. Ok, they were not drunk – but even if they were drunk, they were human beings.

“ You want money. My question to the staff of the hospital – if I give you the money, can you bring me back my back my princess, my promising daughter?”  – Oretha Bestman-Yates, Mother of Accident Victim, Princess Yates, who was denied treatment because she had no money

But when the deadly Ebola virus outbreak came knocking on her doorsteps in October 2014, stigmatization and discrimination forced the head of the Liberian community in the city out of her job in the trauma unit of a private hospital where worked.

“My gosh, we have been like the target,” Bestman told PBS Newshour program aired around the same time Thomas Eric Duncan, had transported the deadly virus to the US state of Texas and died.

“Then the stigma started, that Liberians were walking around with Ebola, because with the three countries that are affected by Ebola, Liberia has become the face of Ebola.

“My employer is telling me, for administrative reasons, I cannot go to work.”

“And what worries us is, we are like the breadwinner right now for our people in Liberia, because they’re looking up to us, you know, financially, because the government is shut down, schools are shut down, no — no work.”

Denied Care Because of Money, Relative Says

Fed up with the stigmatization, and discrimination, Bestman packed her bags and headed for Liberia, where over the past few years she has been running CareHeart Africa, a non-profit organization catering to not just survivors of the deadly virus but also those in need.

But all that came crashing last Saturday when Oretha’s daughter, Princess, who had come to visit and celebrate the 90th birthday of her grandmother, was killed after a fatal car crash on Crown Hill, downtown Monrovia.

Princess’s grandmother’s birthday was on the 8th of July; she arrived on the 4th of July and was due to leave back for the U.S on Friday, July 28th

Ironically, doctors at the nation’s premiere hospital, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center reportedly refused to treat Princes Yates and six others involved in the fatal crash, leading to her death.

Aimee Morris Wernicki first alerted FrontPageAfrica through a letter entitled: Heartless and Incompetence – Accident Patient Rejected At JFK Hospital Dies

Aimee wrote:

On July 21st, 2017 my god daughter Princess Yates was taken to JFK in the early morning hours from an accident that happened around the Capital Bypass/Crown Hill section. 

According to several eyewitnesses, she was refused treatment because she had no money on her. 

As a Liberian who presently lives in the America, I am so abhorred that such a thing can happen in a country that we thought was coming together after years of civil war. 

How doctors and nurses at one of the big hospitals could let a child die because they wanted money first before treating her. 

Even though they were told that the child is an American and that her family will recompense them, they still refused.

Didn’t these people take oaths to treat people regardless of if they can pay or not? I know Liberia isn’t America where anyone can walk into the ER and get free treatment; however, we as human beings need to have hearts when it comes to fellow human beings.

Aimee wrote that his sister, Oretha, had left her family in America after serving the Liberian community as President to go home to help disadvantaged children and orphans from the Ebola virus. 

“All the sacrifices she made for that country went unnoticed and staffs at JFK let her precious daughter die because she had no money on her.

Sad! I am beyond words that such a thing is happening and we have a government in place. I lived in Liberia prior to the war and I must say, we were people that cared for others in the whole of sub-Sahara Africa, and now we can look at another person badly injured in a car accident and leave her unattended because of money? 

Have we gotten so cold because of what the war did or was these the kind of people we were all along? 

At her home off the Robertsfield Highway Monday, Oretha, surrounded by family members, friends and sympathizers, struggled to control her emotions as she fought to hold back tears, while recalling the moments leading to her daughter, Princess’s death.

A Lot of Questions; No Answers

“My daughter came for her grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration. She’s just 19 and gonna be 20, August 28 this year. “

“We fought for healthcare, good healthcare in Liberia, we raised one million dollars in Atlanta, Georgia for JFK hospital, we fought, the CDC (US Center for Disease Control), the World Health Organization to have a health team at the JFK airport during Ebola.

It was me because I was used as an example. When I came during the Ebola outbreak and went back to the states, I was the President of the Liberian community in Staten Island and when the young man, Eric Duncan went to Texas with Ebola, but before that time because we had about 10,000 Liberians on Staten Island, we became a target. Our communities were being closely watched. I said, why you watching us here, you need to send help there, because Ebola looking for a host.”

On Monday, Oretha wondered why?

Why would her homeland, who she had fought so hard to improve, let her down by failing to provide healthcare for her precious daughter?

After all, she had already gone through a rugged stigmatization in Staten Island as a result of Ebola.

Oretha recalled that following the publication of her return from Liberia and help for her homeland in the Staten Island Advance, the New York Times and other US publications, her job took notice and began stigmatizing her.

“I had that interview in August, in September, Ebola hit Texas, the same reporters came back and I told them. At that point, my interview in the newspaper when they were asking if anyone had visited Liberia, everybody said, our president just got back.

“My nursing director for the nursing department for the hospital I worked, seen the article in the paper, she called me, because I worked the graveyard shift.

I was home sleeping that morning, she said, ‘Oretha, thank you for all you do for your country but you know we got to take precaution. You cannot come to work until you are tested for Ebola. I said but I don’t have Ebola.

She said but we don’t know that yet. My doctor said quarantines yourself for 21 days.

“My husband made a place for me in the basement where I was. I went back to my nursing department and the doctor cleared me.”

Employees health in my hospital told me I could not work, quote on quote for administrative reasons. 

“So, I said, OK. I went into the unit that I worked. I worked in the trauma unit, patients in the trauma unit, everybody yelling, co-workers telling me.

“You have Ebola, don’t come here”.

It was when Oretha said she decided to make her help to her homeland a full-time job.

“I said I don’t have to take this. So, after everything, communities gathered around brought container of food, medical supplies to Liberia and we delivered them and I worked with Ebola survivors and children that survived Ebola, even the youngest survivor that was only two months old and I went back to the states but every time, the CNN, the BBC, Aljazeera, I was like the face of Ebola.”

“I said I’m going back to my country. I didn’t make any trouble over there, that’s my country, they will accept me, no matter who I am, no matter the color of my skin and I came back.”

“I told my husband and he said you go, but I’m going to retire in America. I said, well, I’m going. When you retire you can come meet me. He said Oretha, you go and prepare, find a place then I can transition myself – and that’s how I came.”

Now, with the death of her daughter, Oretha is beginning to have second thoughts about her decision. “I lost my promising daughter. She had a lot to offer. I don’t know what my life is going to look like.”

“My husband is all disturbed. People are holding him up in the States. I want to take her back home where she was born, with her friends she went to school with. I mean she was at Spellman College studying environmental science and was going to transfer to Georgia Tech for engineering. My life is in a mess.”

Seven in Crashed Car

Oretha says there were at least seven children in the car. Princess died and three others are in critical condition.

“The other parents went and got their children out and took them to another hospital. I wish I had that opportunity to take her out and sent her to another hospital or the Staten Island hospital where she was born. They don’t turn you away from health care in America. They take care of every patient, no matter who you are, drug user, whatever you are.”

But even as she vented her frustration over a bad health system that contributed to her daughter’s death, Oretha struggled for answers amid a sea of conflicting reports over what led to her daughter’s death. 

“At this point, I’m getting news that a Police car went on the scene.

The kids said a Police jeep came and the Police jeep stopped and they asking for help they tried to take my daughter, and the kids said, can you take us too.

“The Police said, OK, but we can’t take all of you, we don’t want blood all in the car and the put my daughter back in the crashed car. “

“Who does that? Who? I talked to the Police director this morning and he said be rest assure, I’m going to get to the bottom of this. Whoever is involved, they will pay for it. But can it bring my baby back?”

Oretha questioned why the hospital put money over the life of her daughter.

“The thing now is JFK. How can you turn away children; Ok! They were not drunk – but even if they were drunk, they were human beings.”

“You want money. My question to the staff of the hospital – if I give you the money, can you bring me back my back my princess, my promising daughter?”

Probe Underway, JFK, Government Says

But on Monday, Health Minister Dr. Bernice Dahn refused to take the family’s version as gospel pending the outcome of an investigation she says was under way.

Addressing reporters on a day when Princess’s death eclipsed the opening of the Liberia Eye Center at the JFK, the minister said:

“We have gotten some initial report from the JFK Medical Center. We said we are not going to take their report on a face value and so we have asked the administration to constitute an investigation team including the Liberian Medical and Dental Council and investigate and give us a report.”

“We are building a first class hospital and we need to change the mentality around for this hospital.”

“Health workers who took oath to provide services need to provide the kind of services they need to provide to the public.”

“It’s about time we start taking strong measures to resolve that and so we have asked the administration to give us a full report that we will make public to the general public and if action is taken we will also let you know.”

President Puts Nurses on Notice

But President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, weighing in on the incident that led to yet another death at the JFK called on healthcare workers to treat patients with care.

“I wish some of the nurses were here, the health of our people are not only in the hands of the doctor; if someone come to the hospital and you don’t respond to them, you have put their lives at stake, it is a collective effort and we must all must work to improve the country health system.”

Echoing the Minister and the President’s response: Dr. Wvannie Mae Scott McDonald, CEO and Administrator of the JFK explained that there are different tiers of payments for patients rushed to the hospital.

“We have different tiers of payment. When you come in, you come in through the 20th Street gate, that’s what we call our urgent care facility and that’ now our primary care building and that is where we are using now for an emergency care situation because we are renovating the main hospital.”

Dr. McDonald said that within that building, there are different tiers of payment.

“We have those who cannot pay to register, those who can pay – and I want to take maternity out of there because we have identified various classes of our citizens who need to access care but don’t’ have the finance.

Those patients are in a different category.  What we do is capture them and we report the cost for providing healthcare. “

“Those who can pay, primarily, our upper class citizens, those who are employed and insurance, there is a special tier for them.”

The JFK administrator then said that it is not hospital policy to turn patients away for lack of payment.

“Let me use this time to say that at no time that we have emergency patients coming in and we say they got to pay before we treat them. “

“Now, that’s the system we have at JFK. That’s the system we have at the walk-in clinic.”

“The emergencies that come in and triage and need to be sent to trauma or on the ward are different. “

“They are coming in as emergency and must be treated right away.”

“It could be that you are asking this in another frame based on the first question but just like the Minister and the board said, we are investigating this and we will put the package together and let the public know.”

It’s Hard on Me,” Grieving Mom Laments

Outside her home Monday however, Oretha was not buying any of the explanations as she struggled to come to grips with the loss of her daughter, she simply could not believe has left her behind. 

“I’m calling my Princess phone, I called her phone, she’s not answering me. No parents should go through this.”

“The government need to do something with the healthcare system. Take care of the patients first.”

“If it’s money we will pay, don’t turn their life away, and don’t waste a life because of money. I had the money here but I didn’t know my daughter was dying in the hospital. If I knew I would have gone. Nobody called me till she died. It’s hard on me.”

Oretha says she has always heard about accident cases on the highway which is why she was always protective of her daughter.

“I was being so overprotective of my daughter that my friends were calling me mommy bear and baby bear.”

“I want to hold her hand and cross the street, she said ‘mommy, I’m a big girl now.’ I told her, No!…No!…No!  These drivers cannot drive well.

The Pehn-Pehn drivers running before you, the Keke Keke drivers jumping in front you, Princess, you don’t know Liberia.”

Not Questioning God

But Oretha recalls her daughter saying:  “Ooooh! Mommy, stop treating me like a baby.”

Lamented Oretha: “If she was in my house, she will not leave my house after 7pm. I took her to work and I made sure she got back home for the short time she was here with me till she went the other way but that’s what God say will happen. I cannot question God.”

In the days leading to her daughter’s death, Oretha recalled that Princess had told her that she was going to attend the Golden Image Award at the Monrovia City Hall, which was held last Thursday.

“Her aunt picked her up to go at the program with them.

The aunt, Liberia’s cultural ambassador and head of the Crusaders for Peace, Julie Endee, the brains behind the recently successful 7th Annual Golden Image Award.

Oretha said she tried calling Princess on Friday to check on her, but her daughter’s phone was turned off. 

Princess had told her that she was going to her grandmother’s home.

“But where her grandmother lives, cellphone reception is very bad, and it’s difficult to get anyone on the phone. So, I figured because she was with her grandmother, she’s fine. So, I came home and tried to sleep, but found it hard to sleep.”

Oretha recalls that when she finally fell asleep and by 3:49am Saturday morning, she felt like she heard a bang in her head.

Prayed to God to ‘Cover my Children’

“Something shook me – and I got up. And when I got up, I don’t know what it was. As Christians, they tell you when you wake up suddenly like that, then the holy spirit is visiting you so it’s time to pray.”

Oretha says she normally just lay in my bed and pray but this time it was a different. 

“I felt funny in my body. So, I knelt before my bed, asking God to cover my children with the blood of Jesus and protect them from all evil and protecting me from all evil and protecting me with the blood of Jesus.”

“And I went back in my bed but I couldn’t understand what was going on. Then my pastor called me suddenly and he said, “what happened?

And I said nothing. And I said why you calling me this early in the morning.”

“And he said a friend of yours, came by the church but it looks like your friend Matenneh  and asked me she wanted me to go along with her to your house but when I ask her what happened, she said nothing. I mean she walked away – and then I said, OK, let me call and find out.”

Oretha explained: “I called Rose, Matenneh Rose and I said, what happened, that you went to the church to see pastor, she said, ‘no nothing’ and I said but he just called me and said you were there to ask him to bring you to my house.” She said, ‘no I’m fine’.

“So, I said, OK and I hung up the phone.”

Moments later, Oretha continued, another call came in from a cousin, who asked if she was home.

“I said yes.”

Mom: ‘Everything Under Me Was Getting Numb’

She said ‘I heard a news that Jason, was in an accident’.

“I said Jason in an accident? Jason, who?”

She said, Aunty Julie’s(Endee) son. I said but where is his mom, she said, we’re going to the hospital now.  But they said there was a girl in the car with low hair cut who wears glasses. I said, No! Princess went to her grand-mom.”

“So, I said, you know something, then I called Matenneh again and I said I just received a call from somebody, one of my cousins asking me about an accident, you heard anything from Julie, Matenneh said, ‘no! what happened?’

“I said I don’t’ know, she said I’m home. Then the same person called the second time. Then I got concerned, now at this time, everything under me was getting numb and I said, I’m calling her aunt right now. She should be with her aunt at her grand mother’s house.

So, I called the aunt, and the aunty answer the phone and I said, Sis RB, it’s me, Oretha and I said where’s Princess, is she there?

She said, ‘no! Princess left here and said she was going to her cousin, Right there and then I screamed, then I knew, something had happened but I just couldn’t put a grip on what was happening, then I said, don’t tell me it was my daughter in the car they’re talking about.”

At this point, Oretha says she started calling everybody else in search of answers. 

“I’m shaking, Princess’s cousin was in the room. I called her and said, something is going on… and the next thing I knew, my house was crowded with everybody and I asked what happened, where my daughter is.  They said, ‘she’s in the hospital’.

And I said, OK, take me there, let’s go and I’m confused at this point and they told me to sit down and I said, no, my daughter is in the hospital, I have to see her, let’s go. Maybe they need me, what can I do?

And everybody looks at me, straight in my face but… I’m like; tell me something, what is going on?

My baby… and it’s like we’re gonna go to the hospital but we’re waiting for a car to take you. I said but what car, you have cars outside and I came outside and saw the cars and I said why we can’t just go.”

‘She Didn’t Make it’: Grim News Delivered

As she struggled for answers, Oretha says the minister of Gender arrived at her house.

“I said Minister can we go to the hospital now; my baby was hurt in an accident. She said, ‘Oretha, sit down’.

“I said, but she needs me, we got to go, if she needs to be airlifted, I can call the American embassy, whatever I can do, and can we do something? But then the minister held me and she told me, ‘it is true, she (Princess) didn’t make it.’

Oretha says she was in total shock and even more shock when she arrived at the hospital later to identify the body.

“Then, we go to the hospital and I’m told that witnesses in the hospital, one of the kids who were in the accident that actually survived, telling his mom, ‘we were asking the nurses for help and I’m telling them, Princess is sitting in the wheel chair, help her first’.

But Oretha said one of the survivors recalled that the nurses yelled at the kids, telling them: ‘Because your parents got money, they steal government money and buy you big cars, your go in the street and get drunk and have accident, you guys want to have big mouth here? You will sit here, where the money to pay us any way?’

Princess ‘Took her Last Breadth in a Wheelchair’

“He said but we don’t’ have no money.”

The survivor was recalled saying: “OK, if you don’t want to care for me, care for her, she’s bleeding. Nurses go, well, we can’t touch her she’s drunk.”

But Oretha says her daughter never consumed alcohol and challenged the hospital to prove it. “My daughter doesn’t drink; never drank.

Did you do a blood test to check for her alcohol? She sat in the chair and took her last breadth in the wheel chair and all the stories started coming.

The Police, everybody keep calling me now and I’m confused but my thing is, if the doctors could take my heart and give it to my baby to give her a heartbeat, if the doctors could take my breadth and give it to my baby for her to breathe again and I asked the prayer warriors to hold my hands and pray for my baby to come back to me.”

The grieving mother said her daughter was full of promise and commitment to helping the land of her parent’s birth. 

During her short time here she was volunteering with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She’s studying environmental science – and that’s why she took it.”

Oretha says her late daughter picked up interest in the field following a visit to Liberia in 2008.

“She came to visit with her dad and there was some water damage in West Point.

She said, ‘daddy, what is this’? “He said it is the ocean erosion. She said, ‘but can’t they stop the ocean’?

Oretha recalled her late daughter calling her to vent her frustration at what she had seen.  “She called me, I said Princess, my house in Grand Bassa County where I grew up in, the ocean has taken it, so it’s been going on for a long time.

So, when she got back to America, she said mommy, I want to be an environmental scientist. I said that’s what you want it’s fine, because growing up she wanted to be a paediatrician – that was her passion but coming back to see what was happening here changed her outlook entirely.

This child was born in America.

We speak of dual citizenship; we speak of so many things against our own children. She came, she had the passion, and she went back.

She said mommy since I am coming back for grand ma’s birthday, I want to volunteer for the EPA.”

Even in her daughter’s death, Oretha expressed her love and dedication for Liberia but wasn’t so sure anymore.

“The NGO that I have, it’s just to help. As God would have it the ministry of gender and social protection hired me and the paycheck I am earning from it, that’s what I’m using the help the kids but the way things are now, I will pack my bags and go back to my children. I don’t think they deserve this.”

While she acknowledges that she was quite aware of the bad the health system in the country, it was, she says, the reason she advocated for help.

“I was a serious advocate when it comes to health care. I met with the presidential committee on ethics issue in Washington, DC that President Obama set up, the same thing with Ebola, the question was put to me what could we have done differently and I said your response time was too late and yes, Liberia’s response time was too late because I lost my daughter.”

Mom Didn’t want Princess to Come

She recalled intervening in the case of a two-year-old baby boy who could have died for the lack of basic medication.

“They were giving a baby adult medication, a two-year-old baby he couldn’t walk, he was practically dying. I told the grand mother, you cannot give him adult medication.

She said but that’s what I’m taking. I said no, he’s a baby. How much I spent to take care of him. I think it was sixteen, seventeen dollars, he got better.

He hasn’t walked yet but those are the things people are going through. Everybody’s coming to me, they want to give birth, they come, whatever I have, the last penny I give.”

Oretha says she had no intentions of bringing her daughter to Liberia because she was occupied with her NGO.

“My daughter, I didn’t want her to come. It was not time. I’m working with children, helping mothers to get back on their feet, paying children school fees, buying children uniform.

The thing is I didn’t do it to get recognize, because I feel it is my duty as a Liberian to help my people and serve my country. I don’t need any recognition.

“I don’t’ need no one telling me job well done because it’s my heart and my passion and I’ve been here. My Ebola survivors have been working with me and we have been doing what we had to do to help other people.”