York County Prison guard dies of COVID-19, possibly exposed at work

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

A York County Prison corrections officer died Friday after contracting COVID-19, and friends and family say they believe he likely contracted the virus at work.

Lenward "Wood" McMillan worked at York County Prison for nearly 20 years and was a member of the prison's Correctional Emergency Response Team, or CERT.

He was 51. 

Crystal Ouedraogo, McMillan's younger sister, said he was like a superhero to her.

"The risks of him working out at that prison were definitely a concern, and he had that concern as well," she said.

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Shane Weaver, business agent for Teamsters Local 776, which represents corrections officers, counselors and maintenance workers at the prison, said he was told McMillan received a letter stating he'd been exposed to another officer who tested positive for COVID-19.

Lenward "Wood" McMillan, 51, a corrections officer at York County Prison, died Jan. 22 of COVID-19.

The state Department of Health declined Tuesday to confirm whether contact tracers tracked the virus exposure back to York County Prison because it's the state's policy not to comment on specific cases.

Warden Clair Doll said the prison is not involved in the state's contact tracing effort and he therefore couldn't comment on the case investigation.

It remained unclear Tuesday whether McMillan was notified by the state or by prison officials about his exposure.

Weaver said Teamsters Local 776 will miss their union brother's care for others, and his smile.

In an email Monday, Doll described McMillan as a loyal and dedicated member of the corrections team.

"Sergeant McMillan’s leadership, personality and kind demeanor made working and living in York County a better place," Doll said. "He will be missed by his family, friends and co-workers."

The Teamsters union has for months lobbied York County officials to provide emergency paid sick leave for York County Prison employees who have run out of their own sick time and need to stay home because of a COVID-19 infection.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Prison employees who are sick with COVID-19 must use their contractual paid time off, including vacation days and sick days, to stay home, officials have said.

If an employee has run out of his or her accrued paid time off, and they become ill, they can still stay home without facing penalties, but they won't be paid for their sick time.

Tim Turek, former business agent for Local 776, said in December that the county was incentivizing employees to come to work sick because workers who didn't have any more paid time off were afraid of losing a paycheck by staying home.

More:Union rep: York County Prison workers incentivized to work while sick

Nicole Kratz, McMillan's girlfriend, said she believes the lack of additional paid sick leave contributed to the virus spreading inside the prison, and ultimately to McMillan's infection.

Employees who are sick with COVID-19 should have as much paid time off as they need to recover, she said.

"COVID can kill you. It’s not like, 'Oh, I have a cold,' or 'I don't feel like coming to work,'" Kratz said. "You’re not playing sick, you are sick, and your coming to work can kill someone else."

Kratz said McMillan came home from work Jan. 10 and said he wasn't feeling well. He stayed home that Monday and Tuesday, and by Wednesday, she said, she'd urged him to get a COVID-19 test, which came back positive.

Lenward "Wood" McMillan, left, with his girlfriend, Nicole Kratz. McMillan, a corrections officer at York County Prison, died Jan. 22 of COVID-19.

On Monday, Jan. 18, about one week after he started experiencing symptoms, McMillan took a turn for the worse.

He'd been sleeping downstairs to keep his distance from Kratz and not pass the virus to her, she said.

"My phone rings and he's on the phone, and he just doesn't sound right," she said.

Kratz said McMillan was having trouble breathing, as if he'd just gone for a run, so she took him to the emergency room. No family members were allowed to visit McMillan in the hospital because of COVID-19 protocols, and the entrance to the emergency room was the last place Kratz saw him.

His condition deteriorated as the week progressed, she said, and by early Wednesday morning, he was on a ventilator. He died two days later.

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Reunion: Kratz and McMillan both graduated from William Penn Senior High School in 1988, but they didn't know each other well in school, she said.

At their 30 year reunion in 2018, the two former classmates reconnected and eventually became a couple.

Kratz said McMillan was a wonderful father to his two sons, 11-year-old MaKai and 19-year-old TyQuez, and that their two families blended well together. Once a week, her grandkids and McMillan's kids would all come over and have a game night. They usually played either Uno or Old Maid, she said.

Lenward "Wood" McMillan, center, with his sons, MaKai, 11, left, and TyQuez, 19. McMillan, a corrections officer at York County Prison, died Jan. 22 of COVID-19.

The two shared a love of sports and cheered for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Broncos, McMillan's favorite teams.

McMillan was a coach with several local youth sports teams, many of which his sons played for, Kratz said, including the PA Grizzlies Youth Basketball Organization and Yorktowne Patriots Football, where he was known as "Coach Wood."

Kratz said McMillan hoped to get a job coaching full time after retiring from York County Prison.

"We had a lot of plans. He was only 51 years old," she said. "Unfortunately, those plans aren’t going to come true because he’s gone."

'Family was everything': McMillan's sister said that family was everything to her brother.

Several years ago, he started a tradition of Sunday dinners, Ouedraogo said. She would cook, and friends and family would all come over and spend the afternoon together. 

"My kids, you know, loved him beyond this world," she said. "He was always here, every weekend or every other weekend."

Lenward "Wood" McMillan, top left, was a coach for the Yorktowne Patriots Football program. McMillan, a corrections officer at York County Prison, died Jan. 22 of COVID-19.

Ouedraogo said her brother was selfless and always giving back to the community, either through his coaching or by mentoring young men in York City whose fathers weren't around to guide them.

And he was funny, she said, always making everyone laugh.

She recalled that her brother told her he couldn't come over for Christmas this past year because he was working on the holiday.

He hadn't been scheduled to work that day, she said, but offered to take the shift from a coworker who had young children so the coworker could be home with them on Christmas morning, Ouedraogo said.

"Even though he knew the risk, he still gave of himself endlessly," she said.

There will be a public memorial for McMillan and a private funeral service for the family, Ouedraogo said. Details about the public viewing were not yet available Tuesday.