A major state assisted living and nursing center for military veterans is emerging from the depths of a COVID-19 outbreak, according to records and interviews conducted by the News4 I-Team.
The Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, suffered at least 60 resident deaths and required the quarantine of at least 60 staffers during an outbreak of the virus in late spring.
Staffing shortages and personal protective equipment shortages grew so severe during the peak of the crisis, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided emergency federal help to serve residents and contain the outbreak. The VA serves as the emergency backstop for private and community medical centers during calamities and pandemics and was called upon to help Charlotte Hall respond to the virus.
The Charlotte Hall facility, which serves approximately 160 veterans with assisted-living care and 280 veterans with skilled nursing care, sits on 126 acres in St. Mary’s County. It offers deeply discounted services for the state’s military veterans.
As COVID-19 spread in the complex, operators shut down units and worked to isolate infected patients and quarantine infected staff. As cases increased, staff levels dropped.
Charlotte Hall officials told the News4 I-Team the VA sent 18 nurses to work 12-hour shifts during late May and early June as coronavirus cases mounted. The agency’s nurses were deployed from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, an agency spokesperson told the I-Team.
Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs George Owings said the federal VA sent “large numbers of personal protective equipment,” including masks and gowns to help Charlotte Hall remain stocked as it responded to the virus.
"We sent a safety team to fit (Charlotte Hall employees) N95 masks and we sent supply teams to see how they were stocking and ordering equipment they needed for the staff,” said Michael Heimall, director of the Washington DC VA Medical Center.
Robert Walton, head of a Mid-Atlantic regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said emergency support will remain available if other medical facilities suffer shortages amid the pandemic. “We have surge beds available and if facilities need our support, we’re ready to help them in any way that we can,” he said.
Charlotte Hall officials told the I-Team they have rebounded from the depths of the crisis. As of late August, a spokesman said the facility had zero positive COVID-19 tests. He said the facility significantly reduced visitation and isolated patients beginning in mid-March.
Gabi Mecca, whose husband was a patient and died from a non-COVID-19 cause in late April, said she was only permitted to visit her husband in-person during his final days, while in hospice care.
Mecca said the restrictions were warranted, considering the scope and size of the risk. “Charlotte Hall did a selfless act, to keep on trucking during this time,” she said.