Relatives say at least two residents have died of COVID-19 at FutureCare Lochearn, the Northwest Baltimore nursing home where at least 129 patients and 41 staff members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The daughter of one victim expressed frustration that she only learned from news reports the scope of the outbreak: It was the state’s biggest nursing home outbreak to date.
The two residents — Minnie Saunders, 78, and Esther Walker, 72 — died of COVID-19 complications Friday and Saturday, respectively, according to their children.
Walker’s daughter Valerie Evans, 54, said she’s unhappy that FutureCare has not been more forthcoming and that Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order requiring nursing homes to provide protective equipment to staff members was not issued earlier.
“I’m really frustrated because I feel as though FutureCare’s owners, their medical staff, as well as the health department ... I don’t feel as though enough was done and is still not being done to protect the most vulnerable,” Evans said.
Hogan’s order, signed April 5, required nursing homes to provide workers with personal protective equipment and to create separate observation areas for sick residents. Hogan has also created “strike teams” to support nursing homes experiencing outbreaks.
The order came about a month after the Maryland Department of Health issued guidance to long-term and continuing care facilities to restrict access to essential visits and to prohibit staff from international travel. Evans said she wishes the governor had issued his order closer to when that guidance came out, on March 10.
“I felt he should’ve went a step further to protect them,” she said.
Walker, a former teacher’s assistant at Meade Heights Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, suffered from diabetes, had a leg amputated and underwent triple bypass heart surgery a few years ago, her daughter said. She had been at the nursing home for a little less than two years, Evans said.
Saunders, who died Friday after being diagnosed with COVID-19 a week before, also had underlying health conditions, said her son Charles Culver, 59, of Baltimore. The 78-year-old suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure; she had been moved to the nursing home as her condition worsened with age, Culver said.
People with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of serious illness from the novel coronavirus, according to medical officials.
The home’s operator confirmed 170 confirmed cases at the facility last week after conducting “widespread surveillance testing” of both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and staff. But officials have since not answered questions about whether residents have died or if there have been more confirmed cases.
Cases of coronavirus have been confirmed at two-thirds of the state’s 226 nursing home facilities — but further information about which facilities has often been difficult to obtain.
When The Baltimore Sun looked to compile a list of nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks, many Maryland nursing home operators did not return calls or said they needed authorization from the state to speak publicly.
Several counties and Baltimore City denied a Public Information Act request from The Sun seeking a list of affected nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Evans said nurses at FutureCare Lochearn told her on April 14 that as few as 20 cases had been confirmed at the facility.
The next day, news sites and TV and radio stations were flooded with the news that FutureCare Lochearn was the site of the state’s largest nursing home outbreak. Evans said she learned the scope of the outbreak while reading the news on her computer — and continued to struggle to reach staff members after learning of her mother’s diagnosis.
“I feel as though I should not have found that out on the news,” she said.
Evans said facility officials told her each patient would be assigned an “ambassador,” a middleman of sorts to regularly update families about their loved ones.
She said she received no calls from the ambassador and that it became “increasingly difficult to reach my mom on the phone and to get someone to answer” at the facility.
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She attributed part of the difficulty to her mother’s reluctance to pick up her cell phone, but was adamant that calls to staff either weren’t returned or, if the nursing home did pick up, indicated that her mother’s COVID case was mild.
“When I would be able to get through, they always told me ‘Oh, she’s doing good. She’s doing great,’” Evans said. “I was under the impression that she was having a mild case and was on the mend ... because she didn’t have a lot of symptoms.”
In Saunders’ case, Culver was happy with the way FutureCare’s nursing staff cared for his mother, saying that “from that Friday when we got the results to the following Friday [when she died], we were in touch every day.”
He said the nursing staff regularly helped set up video messaging calls with Saunders and that family members were alerted when her condition worsened.
“They did everything they could do under their leadership,” Culver said.