An independent review of the University of Maryland’s handling of a fatal adenovirus outbreak in 2018 found that the health problems that cropped up that fall were never elevated to a campus-wide emergency because different departments weren’t coordinating with each other.
The review released Wednesday said the university “handled both the adenovirus outbreak and mold issues as departmental emergencies instead of campus-wide emergencies.” Declaring a campus-wide emergency would have alerted all administrators about the issue, allowing for a more timely university response.
Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents to conduct an independent investigation after Olivia Paregol, a University of Maryland freshman from Howard County, died Nov. 18, 2018 of an illness related to the adenovirus. Forty students were sickened, including 15 treated at hospitals.
The university also dealt with severe mold issues in some dormitories during the unusually wet weather of the summer and fall of 2018.
The investigation, by a panel that included attorneys and health care professionals, found that the university did follow state and federal protocols and, as the university reacted, that the cost of remediating the mold and resolving the health issues were not considered.
“With respect to the adenovirus outbreak, from a university perspective, the issue was handled to a very large extent within the University Health Center with only minimal input from other departments,” according to the report. “With respect to mold, the issue was handled to a very large extent within the Department of Residential Facilities.
"Both issues should have been viewed and handled as campus-wide emergencies which would have made available additional personnel, talent and resources.”
Paregol became sick early in her first semester when she developed a cough. Her condition became worse and she contracted pneumonia. After she left school, she was taken to an emergency room several times before she died at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The family told the Washington Post earlier this year that they believed her death could have been prevented if the university had not waited 18 days to notify students and parents that the virus was spreading through the College Park campus. The campus was notified of the extent of the outbreak the day after her death, but the review found that the university had written a letter and was planning to send it out before her death.
Ian Paregol, Olivia’s father, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Serious conditions stemming from adenovirus are rare, but they are more common in people with compromised immune systems. Paregol was at risk because medication she took to combat Crohn’s disease weakened her immune system, her father told The Sun shortly after her death.
Charles Simmons, a member of the investigative panel, said staff did respond appropriately to the mold issues on the ground.
“We found that University employees were diligent and worked incredibly hard to address the issues presented," he said in a statement.
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But, he added, individual actions stayed within each of the departments involved in the response.
"This made coordination of the University’s response to mold less efficient as far as coordination of contractors, timing of the decision to retain contractors, notice to affected students and their families, coordination of the move of Elkton Hall students,” he said.
University officials acted appropriately in response to the adenovirus outbreak, he said.
“The CDC and local and state agencies were contacted early and provided input to the University both concerning how to proceed under the circumstances as they were unfolding,” Simmons said.
These agencies did not believe it was necessary, he said, “for the university to send messaging specific to the presence of adenovirus and expressed the belief that the messaging sent ... was appropriate and sufficient."
The report recommends the university take a series of actions to improve internal communications and train staff, including establishing a single emergency response team that responds to both “high impact” emergencies, but also those lower level issues that could turn into a crisis. The report also called for developing a coordinated data tracking system and improving the campus-wide systems for communicating health issues with everyone in the system.
University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert L. Caret said in a statement that the recommendations would be given to all school presidents in the system and that College Park would make changes in the campus policy.