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Emotional and Exhausting: Worker Shares Experience Inside Hard-Hit Maryland Nursing Home

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With Maryland's revelation that half of the state's COVID-19 deaths have come from assisted living and nursing homes, there's a renewed push to stop the spread of the virus.

On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced an executive order requiring universal testing of all residents and staff at nursing homes. Nurses or physicians will be required to evaluate residents daily and special teams will be brought in to help when too many staff members are out sick.

"I don't think they recognized how fast, how quickly and how aggressive this thing would spread and how fast it would kill people," said one certified nursing assistant from Sagepoint Senior Living in La Plata. (The News4 I-Team is withholding the woman's name and disguised her face and voice to protect her job.)

She said life right now inside the facility is like nothing she could have imagined. Staff are working overtime to care for residents they've come to love, and now lose. Thirty-four Sagepoint residents have died, making it Maryland's hardest hit home in that regard.

"It's emotional. It's at times traumatizing. It's a hard thing to deal with. In our line of work, it's hard to not get attached to the people," she said. 

The state lists the facility has having 97 patients who have tested positive and 32 staff members have COVID-19. One staff member has died, according to the data.

The nursing assistant said on some shifts, the staff are assigned to double the number of residents they're used to because so many coworkers are out sick. She said one is currently in the hospital and another has died.

Coronavirus Cases & Deaths in Long-Term Care Facilities

COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities in D.C. and Maryland.

Source: Maryland Coronavirus, DC Coronavirus Data
Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBC Washington

"We are working extremely hard. We love these patients," she said. "We're working double shifts, triple shifts; we're asked then to stay a little longer."

She said she wanted to share what she and her coworkers have been experiencing, so families know what they're facing.

"It's chaotic. It's frightening to see a lot of our residents, people that have been there for years, people who really didn't have serious previous illnesses, just fall sick and die," she said.

Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia

COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

She applauds Maryland for finally releasing information about specific homes, giving families and staff the ability to verify the information they're receiving.

She said even the staff was not told how bad the numbers at their facility were. She says they now have adequate personal protective equipment, so she feels safe, but she worries about transmitting the disease from sick patients to healthy ones. 

"These people cannot leave their rooms; they're obviously getting it from staff," she said. "Staff float between the floors, so even though they did isolate the corona patients from the non-corona patients, staff members are going in between floors daily."

A Sagepoint spokesperson did not return a call for comment regarding the staff assignments. In a statement regarding the number of cases, Sagepoint explained it voluntarily chose to universally test all residents early on, which could be a reason why the numbers are high.

The spokesperson said the facility believes the disease has spread among residents who had no symptoms. They are now isolated to a separate floor, and the home believes that early effort saved lives.

Like most long-term care facilities, family members have not been able to visit their loved ones for about two months. So the workers are the residents' lifeline.

"I love what I do, I love the patients, I love medicine. It's difficult to watch. It really is," she said. "But it's also somewhat comforting to know that you're helping them, maybe they're in their last moments. They have no one else."

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