Sagepoint Senior Living Services in LaPlata is facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines after state officials informed the nursing home Wednesday a $10,000 per day fine will be imposed retroactively from March 30 for “widespread deficiencies” to control the deadly coronavirus that was first introduced in its facility in March.
To date, 33 residents and one staff member has died from the virus, according to the Maryland Department of Health, which is now tracking nursing cases and deaths. The count continues to increase, according to family members.
The Baltimore Post-Examiner first reported the potential outbreak April 15 at the 165-bed facility. A subsequent article on April 17 confirmed 8 COVID-19-related deaths, and by April 20 state officials revisited the facility.
According to a May 6 Sagepoint letter from the Maryland Department of Health, Office of Health Care Quality, a survey of the facility commenced April 21.
“This survey found that your facility was not in substantial compliance with the State regulations,” the May 6 letter signed by Patricia Tomsko Nay, Executive Director, Officer of Health Care Quality, stated. “In fact, conditions at your facility posed immediate and serious jeopardy to the health and safety of your residents.”
Nay said Sagepoint failed to implement an effective infection-control program in accordance with standards set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and the Maryland Department of Health.
“The deficiencies include failure to obtain critical lab results timely, failure to use appropriate hand hygiene, failure to appropriately use personal protective equipment (PPE), and failure to cohort residents with suspected or known COVID-19,” Tomsko Nay wrote.
Joan Bryan, a daughter of Wilson (Sonny) Goldsmith, who died April 16 at Sagepoint from Covid-19, contacted the Baltimore Post Examiner in early April with her concerns about the facility.
At the time, like so many other family members and Sagepoint staff, Bryan was afraid to speak publicly about the facility.
“At first, I didn’t want to go on the record because my father was still there,” Bryan said Wednesday after the Sagepoint fine. “Like it still is today, many people have loved ones there and they’re’ all scared to say anything because they fear retribution and retaliation against their family member. There have been so many people that have come to me and confided in me saying how the residents are treated.”
Bryan worked ferociously behind the scenes gathering names and numbers of Sagepoint staff and residents to be contacted for the articles, which would paint a picture of neglect by top administration officials.
Staff who was infected with the virus, suspected of having the virus or who were just plain sick with fevers and coughs were bullied into working despite requests to stay home and quarantine. Personal Protective Equipment, known as PPE, was held back from staff. COVID-19 test kits were rationed.
“They followed their own protocol,” said a Sagepoint geriatric nurse’s aide. “They opted out of so many things that affected us all.”
A Charles County Facebook page, Charles County Matters, posted alarming anecdotes daily from outraged Sagepoint family members. The same people contacted state and local health officials routinely by phone and mail.
Charles County residents said the county and state were slow to respond to alleged problems because of local politics. Former state delegate Sally Jameson (Charles County) is a Sagepoint board member and mother of Michelle Buscher, Sagepoint’s director of nurses. At the time, Jameson defended the nursing home’s administration adamantly on her Facebook page.
Sometime in, or before, mid-April, Charles County Health Officer Dr. Suzan Lowry was removed from speaking to the press about Sagepoint, and media requests were directed to Dr. Howard Haft, the deputy secretary of the state department of health. According to multiple sources, Sagepoint CEO and President Andrea Dwyer reached out to Haft, an alleged family friend, for help.
Another Sagepoint family member said Lowry instructed her not to speak to the press about a formal complaint she filed in April.
Neither state or county officials responded to requests from the Baltimore Post-Examiner for an explanation as to why the switch in spokespersons was made. But during an April 19 Sagepoint press conference to media, Haft defended Sagepoint stating the facility needed no further help from the state in containing the virus.
“Every place that we see, certainly every place that we see here in Charles County, is doing an extraordinarily good job of doing all the things that they need to do,” Haft said.
According to the state health department, as of Wednesday morning, Sagepoint has reported 97 confirmed cases and 34 deaths, though there is evidence the numbers are higher.
Across Maryland, nursing homes account for approximately 6,200 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 800 deaths.
Nay’s letter said based on the seriousness of the findings Sagepoint will continue to be fined until the nursing home determines measures to correct its deficient practices.
“I’m glad to hear that something was done and somebody was listening – and that they were held accountable,” said Kamara David, a former geriatric nursing assistant who resigned from Sagepoint April 15 because of management’s unsafe practices.
In a statement posted on Sagepoint’s website, the nursing home said they would challenge the charges.
“We strongly disagree with the findings contained in the letter, and we will be disputing them
directly to the Office of Health Care Quality (OHCQ), which is how this oversight process is
supposed to work. We feel it would be inappropriate and highly irregular to respond to last
night’s letter in the media before we have followed the proper process, as mandated by the Center
for Medicare and Medicaid Services and OHCQ. It should be noted that OHCQ has informed
Sagepoint that all of the concerns found during their inspections have been successfully
Bryan said to this day Sagepoint has yet to express condolences to her family.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Bryan said. “At the end of the day it should result in better care of all of our loved ones at Sagepoint, and other facilities too. There’s no way they will ever be able to bring our family loved one back from this. They still got a long ways to go.”
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.