‘Unavoidable’ some nursing home residents will contract COVID-19, says MD health official after report of Sagepoint outbreak

Maryland health leaders say that even though aggressive measures are in place to mitigate the impact of corornavirus outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities it is unavoidable that some residents will contract COVID-19.

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At a press conference on Friday, Dr. Howard Haft, the Executive Director at Maryland Primary Care Program with the Maryland Department of Health, spoke with reporters outside of the Charles County Government Building in La Plata.

The press conference came after FOX 5 spoke with a staff member at Sagepoint Senior Living Services, a nursing home facility in Charles County, who told us she is aware of more than 90 residents and staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, including herself.

At the press conference, Haft said nursing home residents are extremely vulnerable to the virus and said that the state has seen more than 200 outbreaks in the last month with the majority of those occurring at skilled nursing facilities. He outlined the preventative measures being take at nursing home facilities across that state but said no action would be completely effective at eliminating the coronavirus threat.

"There will be people who get coronavirus at skilled nursing facilities -- that's unavoidable. Even with the greatest precaution and even with the most intense supervision, it's a disease that spreads so easily," he said.


"We can do things to mitigate that impact and I believe that's what's happening here and now in this County," Haft added. "I'm going to make it my business every day to check in here in the County and make sure that every one of the facilities is doing absolutely the best that they can -- and I'm confident that they will do that."

Joyce Riggs, spokeperson for Sagepoint, said the facility has been transparent regarding its actions to mitigate the spread of the virus. Riggs said the first resident tested positive for COVID-19 at Sagepoint on March 30. She said the facility worked with local and state officials to make sure guidelines were being followed correctly. Riggs said she believes the facility has gone "above and beyond" when communicating with family members regarding COVID-19 cases at the facility.

Neither Haft nor Riggs would release the total number of COVID-19 cases at Sagepoint nor would they confirm the information in FOX 5's report. Riggs said all COVID-19 data from the facility has been reported to the Maryland Department of Health.

FOX 5's Bob Barnard asked Haft if he felt Sagepoint was understaffed and if the workers were overwhelmed. Haft said he believed the facility was at or above the staffing requirements. "In terms of overwhelmed, I think we're all overwhelmed by this," he said. "I don't think anyone of us can say this is not an overwhelming situation."

On Friday, FOX 5 also learned even some of the county’s paramedics are concerned with what’s going on at the facility.

A few first responders told FOX 5 DC on and off camera, not even they are being told whether there’s an outbreak at the senior facility, leaving them to count on their own how many time’s they’ve had to respond.

On average, Ryan DeGruy, IAFF LOCAL 4658 President, told FOX 5 they were responding to around 8-to-12 calls there a day. Before, they maybe saw 1-to-2 calls in a 24hr shift … on a heavy day.

DeGruy represents the Professional Paramedics & EMTs of Charles County.

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“It’s not only the toll on the resources we have available but the mental toll of these providers. We have very limited, scarce information as to what’s going on and there’s concerns about what we’re actually being exposed to there,” said DeGruy.

DeGruy said he also responded to calls at Sagepoint three times during his last shift. His concern is for his family: two kids under the age of four … and he’s not the only one.

“We’re provided the PPE but going in the back of your mind, You’re wondering what else is coming out with you. We still have. We’re not taking showers until the end of shift typically because we have to have that turn around in those limited resources. So there’s definitely a lot of nerves going on. A lot of anxiety,” DeGruy added.

When asked about the concern coming from first responders, The Charles County’s Dr. Howard Haft told FOX 5, “Our first responders treat every facility the same. They treat it with a high degree with respect for this coronavirus and make all the necessary precaution. So I think they’re well aware.”

DeGruy, when asked about what they would do differently if they know of an outbreak at the facility, told FOX 5, “Some potential ideas I’ve been throwing around is maybe they could bring the patient out to us instead of sending our personnel into the facility with the additional exposure risk. There’s been the idea of bringing a private ambulance.  A company that bring detail 8-12 calls. That’s a full load for an entire shift.”

When asked once more on Friday to confirm positive COVID-19 case numbers, a Spokesperson with the Charles County Health Department wrote, “As stated by Dr. Howard Haft at the press conference this morning, ‘We are collecting validated and normalized data during the course of this week from all Senior nursing facilities (SNFs) and will report out as soon as that is available.  We anticipate this will be available within the next 7 days or sooner".