This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.
Reports of abuse at a St. Mary’s County nursing home for veterans is causing the state to end a two-decade old contract with a South Carolina company.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) said Wednesday that the troubles at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home came to his attention the day he was sworn in. Complaints including abuse and fights between residents required immediate attention, he said.
“As both a combat veteran and the state’s commander in chief, I am both personally disturbed and professionally enraged to learn of the level of disregard that has been given to the treatment of these patriots,” Moore said. “Every Marylander deserves better but particularly those who have been willing to risk it all for all of us.”
In a phone call, the head of the company, HMR Maryland, said he and company officials were aware of Moore’s comments and the allegations of abuse and neglect.
“We share the Governor’s commitment to the care provided to veterans,” CEO Heyward Hilliard said in an emailed statement. “As he shared his questions today, we will work with his team to ensure he has all the facts at his disposal. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for all nursing home providers across Maryland and the country. Under our management over the past 21 years, Charlotte Hall has received numerous national, state, and local awards and recognition. We are proud of our staff and the service they have provided to our nation’s veterans. Our number one priority continues to be caring for the health and well-being of our veterans and staff, and this priority will continue throughout the transition.”
But Hilliard, in a phone call, acknowledged that the company’s time running the facility for the state is coming to an end.
“We love Charlotte Hall and we love the area,” said Hilliard. “They (the Moore administration) see this as a time to make a change.”
Moore’s comments preceded a Board of Public Works discussion on an emergency contract that would send a team of nurses into the facility to immediately assess the health and welfare of the residents.
Initially, the state awarded a contract with a Maryland staffing company. The contract was canceled when the company could not provide the nine nurses needed to complete the review on the state’s two-week timeline.
“Within hours and I mean within hours of our administration taking office, we learned that things were not going well at Charlotte Hall,” Moore said. “In fact, the situation happening at Charlotte Hall is a moral failure of government.”
Moore said the state informed HMR it would terminate the contract and seek a new company to oversee operations at the nursing home.
The Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs will monitor HMR operations at the facility. Officials hope to award a new contract later this spring and transition HMR out of Charlotte Hall in June.
“We will right this ship,” Moore said. “We will find out what led to this crisis. Under our administration, we will provide our veterans with the care and the support that they need and that they’ve earned.”
Charlotte Hall Veterans Home opened in 1985. The facility provides assisted and skilled nursing care for veterans and their spouses.
South Carolina-based HMR has run the home for the state since 2002. The company is currently in the seventh of an eight-year contract. That deal awarded in 2016 was worth a total of $341.7 million.
That was on top of a previous deal awarded to HMR in 2010 valued at $190 million.
Currently, the facility in St. Mary’s County provides assisted living and nursing home care to 267 people — honorably discharged veterans and their spouses who are unable to care for themselves.
HMR took over the contract at the facility two decades ago after another company, which held the contract since 1985, filed for bankruptcy and was ordered to leave the nursing home business.
In addition to Charlotte Hall, the South Carolina company operates 12 other nursing home facilities catering to veterans in Alabama, South Carolina and Texas. HMR has been the subject of state investigations and news reports related to abuse of residents at some of those other facilities in recent years.
At the time when it was awarded the Charlotte Hall contract, officials in South Carolina wrote a letter of recommendation to Maryland officials.
Four years earlier, HMR assumed management of the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Home in South Carolina after the previous operator went bankrupt. A letter to Maryland officials from the governor’s office in South Carolina praised HMR for turning the veterans home there into a model facility.
Moore’s comments and a recent report by federal regulators paint a different picture.
In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a series of reports highlighting concerns at the facility. The agency gave Charlotte Hall a one out of five-star rating accompanied with a warning about reports of abuse.
“CMS in their five-star rating services relegated Charlotte Hall to one star status with an abuse warning,” said Moore. “A nursing home cannot earn a lower score in the system. That means Charlotte Hall is among the nation’s worst performing nursing home facilities.”
The findings include deficiencies ranging from minor — involving one or few patients — to more serious issues involving physical abuse or degradation.
In one case, investigators reviewing nurses notes last August determined the facility failed to protect residents from abuse and neglect. In that case, a resident reported that a nursing assistant injured a resident, bending back his thumb after a disagreement about storing pillow in a closet. The assistant was later fired.
Another resident who suffers from impaired muscle coordination and weakness complained in July that they feared drowning after being left unattended in a tub for eight minutes. Staff rescued the patient after hearing them call out for help. The nursing assistant involved in that incident was also fired.
Records also show staff failed to properly monitor patients with histories of aggressive behavior. That failure led to at least one incident in May where two patients got into a fight. Staff who broke up the fight reported that one patient was seen stomping on the head of another. The injured patient required treatment at a hospital.
Since 2020, the facility has been fined four times for a total of $266,217 by the federal agency. Fines are assessed for an array of issues ranging from serious health or safety issues. Fines can also be issued for failing to correct a citation for an extended period.
The lowest fine assessed against HMR was $650 in December 2020. The operator was fined more than $164,000 in April 2021 and more than $100,000 in August 2022, according to federal records.
“The situation at Charlotte Hall is the product of years of poor oversight and mismanagement — a pattern that we’re seeing all across the state of Maryland as our administration continues to begin the work of rebuilding government and identifying areas that require immediate and long-term action,” said Moore. “I will not sugar coat this: we have a lot of work to do that will not be easy, but the work will be necessary if we are to build a government that is responsible and responsive to the people that we serve.”