Cynthia and her husband Robert Whiting (Courtesy photo)
The daughter of a Sagepoint resident who died April 11 from Covid-19 called for the firing of Sagepoint president and CEO, Andrea Dwyer, after learning state officials concluded the facility failed to protect residents and staff from the deadly virus.
“I hate to say somebody should lose their job, but somebody should be fired,” said Angelica Whiting whose 66-year-old mother died from COVID-19. “I knew they were doing stuff wrong, but I didn’t know it was to that extent. I don’t think someone should resign because when someone resigns they can still keep some of their benefits through their job. They should be fired and lose all their benefits.”
Dwyer did not respond to a comment request regarding the findings in the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality report. However, on May 9, Sagepoint posted a two-page letter on its website largely denying the claims.
“While we clearly cannot speak to all aspects of the citations issued to Sagepoint for concern about state privacy and federal HIPPA laws, we can openly express that many notations in the CMS – OHCQ issued document are patently false,” the response letter stated.
In a 50-page state report, obtained by The Baltimore Post-Examiner, officials from the Office of Health Care Quality determined Sagepoint Senior Living Facilities in Charles County lacked an internal infection control system and failed to protect residents and staff from the deadly novel coronavirus and possibly contributed to their deaths.
“These interrelated failures contributed to increased risk for harm and possible death to all residents, staff, and visitors during a declared health emergency,” the OHCQ reported stated.
On March 30 Sagepoint reported its first Covid-19 case. As of today, 34 residents and one staff member have died from the virus. The LaPlata nursing home has the highest Covid-19 death rate in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
Whiting said she and her family retained a lawyer and will file a lawsuit, and the family is not alone.
“I’ve been speaking to this group of lawyers who are talking to a group of family members,” Whiting said. “We don’t know if it’s better to pursue legal action singularly or with a group.”
On Tuesday, a staff member at the Pasadena-based law firm Lliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan, P.C. confirmed the firm is also representing Sagepoint family members. Law firm partner Kathleen Howard Meredith is believed to be spearheading a potential class-action lawsuit.
Meredith would not speak about the cases when contacted, but a Sagepoint family member said as many as eight family members may have already signed on with the firm.
The Maryland Department of Health, Office of Health Care Quality (OHCQ) – in conjunction with The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) – conducted a two-week “survey” of the 170-bed facility from April 21 to May 6. The inspection followed a series of articles by the Baltimore Post-Examiner and family member complaints that reached as high as the office of Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr.
On May 6, the same day the inspection concluded, state health officials sent Sagepoint a letter announcing a $10,000 per day fine, retroactive from March 30.
One of the cases noted in the report claims a resident, identified as “Resident #4,” tested for the coronavirus on April 6 and occupied a bed in a designated non-positive COVID wing for 14 days before staff obtained test results which showed the resident was positive.
“After the test results for Resident #4 were received, he/she was still not relocated from the COVID negative unit for four more days, and the risk for spread of the potentially fatal illness in the vulnerable population continued,” the report stated.
Another finding included a second example of a positive resident occupying a room in the facility’s alternate non-positive COVID wing.
A nurse interviewed by the OHCQ team said, “additional precautions were taken when providing care to the positive residents on the negative units.”
A third example included the review of a positive resident who received an anti-malarial medication, used for treating Covid-19 symptoms. Inspectors found that while a plan was in place for nurses and aides to monitor these residents for potent toxic side effects associated with the drug, staff routinely did not.
“[I]t was determined that the facility failed to develop and implement a comprehensive, resident-centered care plan for residents who were given a medication that is known to have toxic effects,” the report read.
Charles County Del. C.T. Wilson said he was shocked to hear about the $10,000 per day fines because he was told by Sagepoint leadership that they were following procedures and policy.
“There is obviously a huge failure in supervision as far as individuals and nurses in how they handled the situation,” Wilson said. “At that point, enough was known about COVID-19 and how extraordinarily and communicable that it is. They were of a duty to keep [COVID-19 positive residents] separated.”
Wilson said he’s been kept in the dark about the extent of wrongdoing at the facility.
“I was being told by [Sagepoint] there is nothing to see here,” Wilson said. “I think there’s such an incestual issue going on here with this good old boys system.”
Among Wilson’s concerns is that Michelle Buscher, the Sagepoint Director of Nurses, is the daughter of former state delegate Sally Jameson, a Sagepoint board member. He also said the matters with Sagepoint should be handled at the state level and not the county.
In total, OHCQ surveyors examined nine resident cases. The report concluded Sagepoint did not follow infection control safety practices and guidance recommended by federal and state health agencies.
Summary of Findings
In a summary of findings, the OHCQ reported the facility failed to: “1. implement appropriate isolation precautions timely; 2. keep infectious residents and non-infectious residents separated as much as possible during an infectious outbreak with a fatal pathogen; 3. ensure that staff followed accepted standards of practice for hand hygiene during the declared health emergency; 4. ensure that staff utilized personal protective equipment in a manner that met minimum standards and minimized risk for infectious spread; and, 5. develop and implement an effective system to both obtain and clinically respond timely to critical laboratory results.”
Sagepoint Calls State Report ‘Factually Incorrect’
Sagepoint has denied the accusations in a letter posted on its website.
“OHCQ stated we did not follow cohorting practices. That is factually incorrect,” the May 9 response statement reads.
Cohorting is defined in Maryland’s State Operations Manual as the practice of grouping residents infected or colonized with the same infectious agent together to confine their care to one area and prevent contact with susceptible residents.
According to the state health department, Maryland nursing homes have 5,329 confirmed Covid-19 resident cases and 984 deaths. Nursing home deaths represent 60 percent of the state’s 1,694 overall deaths – a 10 percent increase in one day. There are 2,209 confirmed staff cases and 11 staff deaths.
Sagepoint pushed back against federal policies that require long-term care CMS facilities to accept Covid-19 residents in their facility.
“Rather than receive assistance, we received the CMS mandate that all nursing homes must accept COVID-19 positive patients as discharges from the hospital,” the May 9 Sagepoint letter stated. “This mandate, coupled with ineffective and ever-changing infection prevention guidance, leaves all nursing homes completely vulnerable to the ravages of this virus.”
Sagepoint said they believed the announcement of the fine – that was made available to the press last week – was “punitive” in nature and designed to send a chilling message to nursing homes in the state.
“Based on the seriousness of these findings, it is imperative that you immediately determine the measures that are necessary to correct these deficient practices, what systemic changes you will develop to ensure that this does not happen again, and what quality improvement process will be implemented to oversee the system,” the OHCQ letter concluded.
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.