‘Families are the ones who are paying the price’: Nursing home outbreaks in Catonsville lead to 11 deaths, with more than 120 others infected

By the time Rodnina Barden-Blocker was told by Meadow Park Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center that her mother had contracted coronavirus, the older woman already had been transported to Northwest Hospital.

Seventy-nine-year-old Dorothy Barden died two days later on March 31.


Since the Catonsville nursing home began barring visitors in early March, Barden-Blocker said she had not received a single update about Barden’s condition. Not until the Sunday was she told that her mother was unresponsive.

“That’s the only call I got," Barden-Blocker said. Her mother, who would have turned 80 in May, had been receiving short-term rehabilitative care since December.


“I called them and said, ‘Hey she passed away, in regard to COVID-19,’ and they still have not responded," Barden-Blocker said. "The only thing I’ve gotten is a bill in the mail.”

Barden is one of three Meadow Park residents who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health.

Another 18 residents are confirmed to have contracted the virus out of the 110 patients that live at Meadow Park, according to the nursing facility’s administrator, Jenelle Onyenemezu. Fifteen staff members also have tested positive there.

Representatives from Meadow Park declined an interview request Thursday. In an email, Onyenemezu said that “families of Meadow Park residents who test positive for COVID-19 are contacted directly by our medical staff.”

She added that Meadow Park staff is calling “all families each day with a status update” and has set up an email account and dedicated phone number for families to ask questions or request a FaceTime visit with their family member.

Barden-Blocker, who moved to Catonsville to care for her aging parents, said her mother was beloved by her neighbors, for whom she made wreaths during the holidays.

Barden had received an award from County Councilman Tom Quirk for her community involvement, and from the Westview Park Community Association, where she served as a board member. She was a dental assistant for Johns Hopkins Medicine for 18 years and an avid churchgoer at Christian Life Church, Barden-Blocker said.

After the home closed to visitors, Barden-Blocker said she could not easily reach her mother by phone. She used to visit twice a day before the pandemic.

Before Barden died, her only daughter said she had only been able to reach her four times, because staff members would not connect them through the nursing home’s phone line, which “would just ring and ring and no one would answer,” she said.

“I understand nurses are busy — I get it, I completely get it," she said. “But the families are the ones who are paying the price.”

All told, 11 patients have died at two nursing homes in Catonsville — three at Meadow Park and eight at Frederick Villa Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center.

Another 92 patients and staff members have tested positive for coronavirus at Frederick Villa, according to state data on nursing home outbreaks made available in late April.


Five residents with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized, according to an administrator. Thirty-three staff members and 67 residents have tested positive in total for the novel respiratory illness, according to state data Friday, May 1.

Catonsville’s 21228 ZIP code, where Frederick Villa and Meadow Park are located, contains the highest concentration of coronavirus cases in Baltimore County with 254 confirmed cases as of May 1.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in April that deaths at assisted-living facilities account for more than half of the county’s total deaths — 110 as of May 1, according to state data.

At the nearby Ellicott City Healthcare Center, coronavirus has killed 10 residents, and 79 other cases among residents have been confirmed, as of May 1. Twenty-nine staff members have also tested positive, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

A strike team composed of health care workers from area hospitals, National Guard members, emergency services clinicians and front-line public health staff from state and area health departments were deployed to Frederick Villa Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center on April 16 to 18, said Frederick Villa administrator Kevin D’Alesandro.

This team tested residents and staff members and confirmed 53 positive coronavirus tests, most of which were asymptomatic, D’Alesandro said.

“By the time it was anywhere in your building, it was everywhere in your building,” he said.

With guidance from the strike team, nursing home administrators have created separate wings within the building on Academy Road to isolate residents who have tested positive for the respiratory illness from those who have recovered or have tested negative, D’Alesandro said.

Frederick Villa Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Catonsville.
Frederick Villa Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Catonsville. (Jeffrey F. Bill)

“Once the National Guard came in, with a bunch of test kits [and we] rapidly starting getting positive [tests] from asymptomatic residents — that’s when we realized this is bigger than we thought,” he said.

D’Alesandro said the Baltimore County Department of Health and the National Guard told him the facility was “kind of ahead of the curve” putting in measures to prevent disease spread.

Frederick Villa had canceled visitations March 13, and was screening visitors for coronavirus symptoms and exposure before that, D’Alesandro said. At the end of March, all 148 staff members were required to wear face masks, gowns and eye protection. Residents, who usually bunk two to a room, were removed from the rooms if they were exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

The 125-bed facility closed its on-site rehab center after a few staff members providing physical therapy to patients tested positive for the virus, D’Alesandro said. Staff members are still providing physical rehabilitative services to asymptomatic patients in a “decentralized” location while the rehab center is closed, he said.

All common areas, including managerial offices, were sanitized after multiple managers at the home tested positive, D’Alesandro said.

D’Alesandro added that Frederick Villa has been coordinating with the Baltimore County Health Department since the home’s first positive case, and has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.

While Maryland Department of Health faced testing kit shortages as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the state in March, D’Alesandro said Frederick Villa had fared better than other homes and did not struggle to secure tests.

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