“Hopefully, today will help ease the pain and sorrow,” said Patrick Chesley, whose mother, Arlene Chesley, a fixture at Sagepoint, was so protective of her fellow residents that she would often instruct him to wheel her around the facility to check on them.
Throughout the service, where families brought photographs and drawings of the dead, there were stories about the connections formed between residents who called Sagepoint home. Joan Chapman said her brother, John “Jackie” Chapman, was blessed to have Wilson “Sonny” Goldsmith as his roommate and “right hand man.”
“Mr. Goldsmith really looked after my brother,” she said, clasping the hand of Goldsmith’s daughter, Kathy Perriello. “Her dad was the best roommate my dad could have had. He couldn’t do a lot for himself. . . . I just want to thank you all again for having such a wonderful dad.”
Perriello remembered her 80-year-old father as the hardest-working man she knew — the face of the Giant in Waldorf, where he worked for years. She said he loved to drive anything, from tractors to trucks to his motorized wheelchair, which he was known to speed around in through the halls of Sagepoint.
“He may have run into you, or run over you, with his motorized wheelchair,” she said as those gathered in lawn chairs in front of the crosses broke into laughter.
James “Smash” Stewart’s family said he knew all of the residents by name and insisted on feeding them all fresh vegetables from the garden he started at the nursing home — including tomatoes, cucumbers and collard greens.
“He had great tomatoes,” a woman in the audience said with a smile.
Osmany Perez, known to his friends and family as “Ozzie,” was another fixture at Sagepoint. Perez, an artist, loved the brightness of the nursing home, which he filled with art that he painted, said his sister, Debborah Collins, whose husband, Reuben B. Collins II, president of the Charles County commissioners, hoisted a picture of Perez above his head. Debborah Collins said her brother, who was deaf, tried to teach the Sagepoint nurses American Sign Language and was always telling them how pretty they looked.
“He was funny and always happy, reminding us to smile at the simple things,” said Debborah Collins, who brought her brother to Maryland years ago after he was mistreated in another nursing home.
She laughed that her older brother, who was 69, was “the loudest deaf person you will ever meet.”
Sara Franck, 45, remembered her grandmother, Naomi “Carol” Sullivan, making peanut butter cookies (crispy, not soft), eating so many tomatoes she would break out in a rash and laughing so hard with her that both their bellies would hurt. She said Sullivan, who provided day care at gyms, loved crochet, cooking and living life to the fullest.
“I just wish I could have been with her to say goodbye,” said Franck, who last saw her grandmother in March, the day before Sagepoint stopped allowing visitors. “She was one of the greatest women I have ever known.”
Rosa Inguanzo, a retired teacher, was known to all as “the Spanish-speaking lady,” said her daughter, Rosa Hernandez, and was among the women whose eyes would light up when the singing started in the dementia unit.
“She would talk to everyone in Spanish and expect everyone to know what she was saying,” remembered Hernandez, who used to visit her mother almost every day and carried a portrait of her mother to the service Sunday.
“I just feel like we are family and this is a way to bring closure to this, because it has been so hard and so cold,” she said, as heads nodded. “I would have wanted a little more,” she said, pausing, as another woman filled in: “Compassion.”
“Yes, compassion from Sagepoint,” Hernandez said.
Sagepoint chief executive Andrea Dwyer said in a statement that the staff grieved for every life that was lost to the coronavirus. “They were family,” she said. “We laughed with them, we cried with them, celebrated birthdays and other life milestones with them, and we fought to protect them.
“We will never forget them or the staff member we lost,” Dwyer said.
Sagepoint was the first nursing home that state regulators fined during the pandemic, citing the facility for not using appropriate personal protective equipment, not separating residents with suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases and not obtaining lab results in a timely manner. There have been 36 deaths among residents and one employee death, according to state data, and 107 infections among residents and 37 among the staff.
Sagepoint spokeswoman Joyce Riggs said the facility disagreed with findings from state regulators and has not paid the fine. She did not respond to questions about why the number of deaths reported in state data was less than that stated by families at the memorial service.
Nurses and nursing assistants told The Washington Post that they were told not to wear masks when they requested them in March because it would scare residents. They also said they were assigned untenable numbers of patients because of staff shortages and asked to move between wings with patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus and those who had not.
At the service Sunday, Chesley read the names of each of the dead aloud. A woman in the crowd cried, and another rubbed her mother’s shoulder. Chesley got to his mother’s name: “Arlene Ethel Chesley,” he read. “My mom . . . who I miss so dearly.”
Raindrops started to fall, and Chesley’s voice broke as he continued reading the names.