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Death and denial, as Covid-19 hits FutureCare

by Ian Round3:39 pmApr 24, 20200

At least 13 coronavirus deaths reported by staff and family members at FutureCare nursing homes

Staff say their requests for better safety measures have been met with hostility. Covid cases have spread to many FutureCare facilities in Baltimore city and county.

Above: FutureCare Charles Village, at 2327 North Charles Street, where staffers report more than 50 infections and at least three deaths. (Fern Shen)

Amid the continuing refusal by Baltimore’s largest nursing home chain to disclose the extent of the spread of Covid-19, staff and families of residents are describing troubling lapses in safety protocols as well as multiple deaths.

Johnette Gayden said her family was never told that her aunt, Janice Jones, a resident at FutureCare’s Charles Village location, was ailing until it was too late.

“It was always said, ‘Oh, she doing good,’ until today (4/12/20) when they said her Covid-19 test came back positive, and she died minutes later,” Gayden wrote on Facebook. “Unbelievable. Get your loved ones out of there.”

Valerie Evans had the same experience after her mother had tested positive at FutureCare Lochearn.

Last Saturday, Esther M. Williams died at the home 90 minutes after Evans was told that her vital signs were “good” and “she never had any strong Covid symptoms.”

Women don protective clothing outside of FutureCare Lochearn, the site of multiple Covid-related deaths, employees say. (Louis Krauss)

Women don protective clothing outside of FutureCare Lochearn, the site of multiple Covid-releated deaths. (Louis Krauss)

Residents or staff at nearly all of chain’s 15 nursing homes in Maryland have tested positive for coronavirus, according to interviews with employees and family members.

At least 13 deaths and more than 250 Covid infections have been reported at the chain, according to sources.

Among them:

• At least seven deaths at FutureCare Randallstown – five residents and two nurses, including Quen Agbor Ako. A majority of residents and healthcare staff at the home are currently infected, employees say.

• At least three residents have died at FutureCare Lochearn. Following a Brew story about Covid cases there, city officials confirmed that 129 residents and 41 staff members had tested positive for the disease.

• At least three residents have died at FutureCare Charles Village, including Janice Jones. Out of 67 residents now at the home, all but 10 are reportedly Covid-positive.

• At least 18 residents and three staff members have tested Covid-positive at FutureCare Irvington in southwest Baltimore. The infected residents have been quarantined at the facility.

• At least three residents have tested positive at Canton Harbor on Boston Street, while an entire floor of the facility awaits results.

• At least six people have tested positive at the Good Samaritan location on East Belvedere Avenue and at least five residents have been infected at the Cold Spring Lane facility on Harford Road.

Attempts to confirm these numbers with the Maryland Department of Health, Baltimore City Health Department, Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services, and the offices of Gov. Larry Hogan, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and others have been unsuccessful.

City and state officials assert that identifying the names of specific nursing homes with Covid cases violates privacy laws.

Silence as Virus Spreads

What is known is that the virus has spread quickly through senior care facilities where aging, medically vulnerable people reside in close quarters.

While keeping the identities of individual nursing homes secret, state health officials now say that 169 of Maryland’s 226 certified nursing homes have at least one Covid-19 case.

FutureCare Old Court. (Louis Krauss)

At FutureCare Old Court at least six residents have died, according to sources. (Louis Krauss)

Some operators have publicly acknowledged coronavirus outbreaks and deaths, including Pleasant View of Mt. Airy, where two dozen have died, and the Genesis Loch Raven Center in Parkville, where four people have died.

But FutureCare has refused to disclose any information following the 170-person outbreak that city and state officials revealed on April 15 at its 200-bed Lochearn facility.

“Since they’re hiding [Covid cases], they’re not able to get help because they’re not asking for help”  – FutureCare employee.

This poses a big problem for residents and staff, said one employee. “Since they’re hiding [Covid-positive cases], they’re not able to get help because they’re not asking for help.”

Another employee said, “If you approach anyone up the chain, they’re dismissive and they threaten your job.”

Said a third source, referring to upper management, “They don’t know the level of neglect that goes on.”

Privately Owned

FutureCare was founded by the Attman family, famed for its iconic delicatessen on Baltimore’s “Corned Beef Row.”

Its president and CEO is Gary L. Attman. His uncle, Leonard Attman, is chairman of the board, and his cousin, Jeffrey Attman, is senior vice president.

The company bills itself as a leader in skilled nursing and rehabilitation services that “guide you, step-by-step, on your journey toward health, wellness and quality of life.” It has been consistently ranked as a “Top Workplace” by The Baltimore Sun.

The company’s spokeswoman, Holly O’Shea, has not responded to The Brew’s questions about Covid cases. Nor has the company in all cases notified in writing the families of residents about outbreaks at its facilities, a practice recommended by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, a leading industry trade group.

“My family has not gotten anything in writing from FutureCare,” said Erica Hamlett, whose uncle tested positive for Covid-19 at the Lochearn home two weeks ago.

“They did call to say that he was positive and that the administrator, Franco Pastore, would be talking to us. But we have never heard anything since,” she said. Pastore did not return phone messages from The Brew.

Esther Walker was among the 129 residents at the northwest Baltimore nursing home who tested positive for the virus. (Valerie Evans)

Esther Walker was among the 129 residents who had tested positive at FutureCare Lochearn. She died last Saturday. (Valerie Evans)

Ineffective Response Alleged

While the company remains tight-lipped, information about Covid cases has spread widely among its employees.

Much of its comes from people who work at multiple locations and have access to testing records.

“We’re going into the system and looking at test results ourselves,” an occupational therapist told The Brew. “I could have been a carrier. I could have been the one that brought it back to my location.”

“I could have been a carrier. I could have been the one that brought it back to my location”  – Occupational therapist.

While fearful that they may lose their jobs, more than a half dozen employees have approached The Brew, saying they are concerned about their health and the health of the residents they care for.

While their specific complaints vary, they all faulted management for a delayed and halfhearted response to the pandemic as it gathered strength through March and early April.

Six current or former employees confirmed an earlier on-the-record account in The Brew by Deborah Clarke and Chemia Hughes-Mitchell, who said that some supervisors discouraged nurses from wearing protective masks while on rounds, and upper management provided little guidance about how to practice social distancing.

Several said management was concerned that residents would panic if they saw the staff wearing masks.

EMS vehicle and ambulance outside FutureCare Lochearn 2/20/20. (Louis Krauss)

An EMS vehicle and ambulance outside of FutureCare Lochearn after it was disclosed that 129 of its residents were Covid-positive. (Louis Krauss)

Another source, who quit a job at FutureCare Cold Spring in disgust, said management’s approach to the pandemic has been to keep residents in the dark.

Speaking of the company’s philosophy, she said, “It’s really just about ‘give them their meds and move on.’ I made my daughter swear she would never put me in a long-term facility.”

Shared Gowns

While staff did start using face masks after Gov. Hogan ordered nursing homes to institute the rule on April 5, employees say they are sharing other equipment, often without sanitizing it between uses.

For example, protective gowns are limited to one per room. That means that when a nurse or therapist enters a room, they are required to put on a gown that was used by the previous party.

And when they leave, they remove it and hang it up on the door for the next staffer, offering no real protection from the highly contagious virus.

“At the end of my day, I feel like I’m not protected enough,” a geriatric nursing assistant said. “I’m not safe there.”

“I’ve been seeing them just laying there. They look right past you”  – Nurse on the condition of some residents.

The nursing assistant said every resident on her floor has had a dry cough and a fever, the most common symptoms of Covid-19. She said many residents are exhausted, and some look “dazed.”

“I’ve been seeing them just laying there. They look right past you.”

Entrance of the Lochearn center, which was formerly a retirement home for nuns. (Louis Krauss)

Entrance to the Lochearn facility, which once was a retirement home for nuns. (Louis Krauss)

Ticking Time Bomb

Staff worry that the coronavirus outbreaks now found at Lochearn, Charles Village and Old Court will jump to the other facilities.

They say management is “pushing aggressively” for more admissions at facilities that remain largely untouched by the virus, while sending some short-term rehab patients home and some Covid-positive residents to area hospitals.

“They’re trying to stack them in like sardines,” says a source about FutureCare’s Cherrywood center in Reisterstown.

“Building management, the nurses and rehab staff, and social workers all agree admissions should be temporarily stopped.”

The source said the facility doesn’t have adequate capacity to isolate new residents and help prevent the spread of the virus.

That makes the staff very nervous. “People like working at Cherrywood, but they definitely want to see some things change,” the source said.

Mark Reutter contributed to this story.
• To confidentially reach a reporter: editors@baltimorebrew.com

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