Maryland regulators are fining Sagepoint Senior Living, the nursing home that has reported the state’s highest coronavirus-related death toll, for not using appropriate personal protective equipment, not separating residents with suspected or known covid-19 cases and not obtaining lab results in a timely manner, according to a letter sent to the facility late Wednesday.
The 165-bed facility in La Plata, Md., will be fined $10,000 per day for the deficiencies, beginning March 30 — when the Office of Health Care Quality began its survey — and continuing until it complies with state regulations, the letter says.
The fine marks the first civil penalty the state has levied against a nursing home since the pandemic began. There have been 34 covid-19 deaths among patients at Sagepoint, and one employee has died, according to state data.
“Conditions at your facility posed immediate and serious jeopardy to the health and safety of your residents,” Patricia Tomsko Nay, executive director of the Office of Health Care Quality, wrote to Sagepoint chief executive Andrea Dwyer.
Sagepoint spokeswoman Joyce Riggs said Thursday that leaders at the facility strongly disagree with findings in the letter and will be taking the dispute to the Office of Health Care Quality.
“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,” she said in a statement.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that nurses and nursing assistants at Sagepoint 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 frequently asked to move between wings with patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus and those who had not, raising concerns about exposing negative patients.
Employees at several other nursing homes in Maryland described similar conditions.
Riggs said in a statement earlier this week that the nursing home followed guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said on March 20 that only staff members working with patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus were required to wear masks. On April 2, the agency mandated that all employees wear masks in long-term-care facilities.
As of Thursday, 803 coronavirus-related deaths have occurred at long-term care facilities in Maryland, according to state data, more than half of the state’s reported deaths. There have been more than 6,000 infections at such facilities, including about 1,900 among employees.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last week ordered universal testing for nursing home residents and employees in Maryland and signed a contract for 260 medical professionals to assist with staffing. He said Wednesday that the state has done a survey of all its nursing homes and is beginning to test, with a focus on the nursing homes with the biggest problems.
But Joseph DeMattos Jr., chief executive of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, told a panel of state lawmakers Wednesday that tests have not been available for nursing homes.
And employees at multiple nursing homes said additional protective equipment and staffing is desperately needed. They said the 260 medical workers being hired by the state will not come close to covering vacancies at the state’s 226 facilities — particularly because universal testing is likely to yield new positive results that require more employees to be isolated at home for two weeks.
At Sagepoint, regulators found that the facility did not implement an effective infection-control program that was in line with guidelines from the CDC, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Maryland Department of Health.
Deficiencies included not using appropriate hand hygiene, the letter said.
A statement listing the deficiencies will be issued in coming days, Nay wrote in the letter. The survey began March 30 and concluded Wednesday.
“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,” Nay wrote.
A Washington Post analysis found that 40 percent of more than 650 nursing homes nationwide with reported coronavirus cases have been cited more than once in recent years by inspectors for violating federal standards meant to control the spread of infection.