Eight residents of Sagepoint Senior Living Facility recently diagnosed with coronavirus have died, family members and staff told the Baltimore Post-Examiner.
Several other deaths and potentially dozens of confirmed cases are also suspected at the LaPlata aging and rehabilitation center.
The family members and staff broke their silence Thursday after the Baltimore Post-Examiner published COVID-19 Outbreaks Suspected at Two Charles County Nursing Homes on Wednesday.
During the course of 24 hours, interviews with dozens of relatives, staff and those with knowledge of the facility’s procedures painted a disturbing story of care where answers have been hard to come by. Many of those interviewed asked that their names not be used in fear their loved ones at Sagepoint would be treated badly. Employees worried they would lose their jobs.
Andrea Dwyer, the president and CEO of Sagepoint Senior Living Services, did not respond to repeated requests for comment or say she would get back to the Baltimore Post-Examiner by or after set deadlines.
In a late-night post on Sagepoint’s website Wednesday, following the Baltimore Post-Examiner’s article exposing the potential coronavirus outbreak, Dwyer committed to better communication policies for families. Under the new guidelines, families would be contacted once a day Monday through Friday by a nurse or staff member to give feedback on a resident’s health status.
After a news station and cameraman visited Sagepoint, Dwyer left another statement on the website on Thursday: “We have been transparent with our resident’s family contact about all the facts necessary to make the best decisions about your loved one. Public statements and videos have been posted on the website since March 30 and regular call schedules have been implemented to keep you updated.”
Dwyer said she valued the trust family members placed in Sagepoint. Sources said leadership threatened to fire any employee who spoke to the media, after the news crew left.
All residents in the facility were tested for the coronavirus the week of April 6, according to staff. It is unclear if a nursing home strike force team – established by the Hogan administration – was dispatched by the state department of health. Charles County was among 12 Maryland jurisdictions deemed a COVID-19 hot spot in the Washington Metropolitan area, Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., said April 7 at a press conference.
Over the past weeks, while more prominent regions of the state have been placed in the media spotlight highlighting coronavirus outbreaks and deaths, elderly citizens of Charles County have been suffering in silence.
Three residents died just in the last 48 hours – two men were roommates and one was a woman with Dementia, according to staff and family members. Several staff members have also contracted the virus, one of whom remains in serious condition at St. Mary’s Hospital, two Sagepoint employees said.
The unexpected surge in deaths over the past few weeks has sent loved ones and healthcare staff reeling.
“My mother was at Sagepoint, we were informed on Wednesday April 8th she was tested and it came back negative,” Angelica Whiting posted on social media Wednesday. “Then she was sent to the hospital on April 11 and was tested again and it came back positive. She died Saturday night.”
Whiting said as a listed point of contact for her mother, getting information from Sagepoint while her mother was a patient has been difficult. She said staff told her they don’t like giving out information over the phone.
While Whiting said her mother was being treated for pneumonia with antibiotics, the last time she was updated on her mother’s health was April 8. She was told her mother was tested for coronavirus because she had a low-grade fever around 99 degrees.
Then on Saturday, unexpectedly, her father was contacted by Sagepoint and he learned that his wife, 66, was suffering from massive vaginal bleeding and was transported by ambulance to the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center. At the hospital, Whiting said her mother died on her way back from testing. Her heart had stopped, Whiting said.
“I know my mom had underlying [conditions],” Whiting said. “My question is, if she tested negative on Wednesday and then turned around on Saturday and tested positive, how was it so far along that she died the exact same day she tested positive?”
The next time Whiting spoke to someone at Sagepoint was four days after her mother’s death. She said she called the facility to find out about her mother’s belongings. As of late Friday, no one from the facility had reached out to her, she said.
A staff member said they were aware of the death and offered their condolences.
Management declared the long-term rehabilitation center coronavirus-free at a March 19 staff meeting and simultaneously notified its family members on the website.
At the meeting, it was also announced resident visitations to the facility would be suspended, effective immediately, as the threat of the virus in the outside world was becoming too strong, Chief Nursing Officer Michelle Buscher said, according to two staff members who attended the meeting.
Healthcare workers also were informed that a supply of N95 masks were locked away in an office, but they would not to be issued to the staff. There was no need since the facility was free of the virus, Buscher said, according to attendees. Only staff who interacted directly with a coronavirus case would be issued the masks, she said.
And then, minutes before the meeting concluded, the bombshell hit.
Staff was informed a new resident would soon be admitted to the facility – a person positive with the coronavirus.
Staff was stunned, according to attendees.
“Are we even capable of taking care of a COVID-19-positive [case] in our facility,” a nurse questioned aloud. “It does not make sense at all, especially if the facility is coronavirus free.”
But Buscher said they had to, it was the law.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Dist. 28), a Charles County state lawmaker, said every rule has exceptions and in this case, a person with a contagious disease should never have been allowed into a senior center. If it wasn’t a choice, Wilson said the law should be changed.
“This was a reprehensible and dangerous decision,” Wilson said. “Allowing a highly contagious person to be placed with the most vulnerable population – our seniors – is like taking a match to a dried brush. You know it’s going to set on fire.”
Wilson said he also disagrees with the decision not to allow staff to protect themselves against the deadly disease.
“Staff should be wearing personal protective equipment to protect themselves from others, as well as those who they may infect. We know the younger population hardly shows symptoms.”
Wilson said the decisions show horrible leadership.
In the dark
Families contend they’ve been left in the dark about the rapid pace of infection in the facility. Nurses and aides say they are expected to work longer hours, with no hazard pay, and after possible exposure to the virus.
According to numerous people interviewed for this article, family members did not learn until around April 10 that widespread coronavirus testing among residents was taking place at Sagepoint.
And while a nurse at Sagepoint said all the residents were tested for the virus, the staff was denied that opportunity.
“They tested 200 residents for (COVID-19) on Monday,” a nurse said. “What about us? They weren’t going to do it. It doesn’t make sense not to test us. What if we are the carrier? We don’t even know who has it.”
A nurse who became infected with the virus said despite registering a fever of over 101 she was required to come into work the next day.
A shift supervisor, who also tested positive, worked for a week before her results came in, according to a nurse.
“They forced her to come to work anyway,” the nurse said of the supervisor.
Another family who suffered a loss alleged in a complaint to the Charles County Health Department that Sagepoint administration mismanaged medication for their ailing parent, who was also positive.
On Friday, the Maryland Department of Health reported 11,572 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 425 deaths. Charles County has 337 cases and 15 deaths. Nursing home deaths are not provided by local or state government agencies.
On April 5, Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., issued an emergency order mandating nursing home staff wear personal protective equipment, which includes face masks, when they are in close contact with residents.
That order came a little late for some families.
“I want the CEO – Andrea Dwyer – to be held accountable,” a family member who lost a parent said.
Feature Image: Sagepoint Senior Living Facility (YouTube screenshot)
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance journalist and award-winning investigative reporter with an eye for transparency and accountability in government and politics. Kazanjian’s reporting has triggered state investigations in police corruption, as well as changes to state policy in campaign finance and regulatory reform. During her 10-year freelance journey, she has also worked for cable television production companies like the Discovery Channel and Reelz providing true crime timelines for television series scripts.