Symbolic of the neglect at the city-run health clinic at North and Pennsylvania avenues, a rat found dead in December 2020 remained undisturbed and mummified in a follow-up site visit 18 months later, Baltimore’s Inspector General noted in a report issued today.
Many of the same sanitary and maintenance problems – dead rodents in the basement, falling tiles in the ceiling, water leaks and broken toilet pipes – were uncorrected at the Druid Health District Building this summer, IG Isabel Mercedes Cumming wrote in the synopsis report.
Staff visited the clinic on July 14 in response to an anonymous complaint and a June inspection by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) that found the lack of ready access to safety needles, and Sharps Disposal Containers not properly mounted to the wall.
“The OIG’s observations of rodents, pests, security and other general maintenance [issues] during the July 2022 site visit support that there are still concerns regarding the Baltimore City Health Department’s compliance with OSHA regulations and employee health and safety requirements per the city’s MOU with labor unions,” the report concluded.
Lax Safety and Security
The health clinic serves a nearly all-Black community, providing testing, diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The city’s Family Planning and Dental Clinic also operate in the building.
OIG inspectors noted that rodent droppings were found in a hallway, cockroaches and other bugs infested the building, several outside doors were not secured and the building’s digital video recorder didn’t work.
They took particular issue with the Pyxis Room, where medical supplies are inventoried and restocked.
In response to the first OIG report, Baltimore Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa last year promised to place the Pyxis machines under camera surveillance, telling Cumming, “We will work to implement your recommendation to install security cameras to address discrepancies that may arise.”
But during its July visit, no cameras were found in the Pyxis Room.
Not Part of the Contract
In a memo released today, Dzirasa said security cameras were not installed in the room because the medications previously stored there “have been removed and placed in a secured area,” while acknowledging that the overall security system was not completed.
She blamed the discovery of dead rodents on the contract that the Department of General Services (DGS) secured with the janitorial company.
Picking up dead rats was not part of the janitorial contract, Health Commissioner Dzirasa says. “We’re waiting for the new contract to begin.”
The company has insisted “that removal of dead rodents is outside of their scope of services,” Dzirasa said. The contract has been revised, but hasn’t yet gone into effect.
“We are waiting for this new contract to begin. DGS has been onsite to inspect and eliminate potential rodent points of entry.”
Today’s report noted several improvements at the building since the December 2020 inspection.
“The Druid Sexual Health Clinic’s thermostat appeared to regulate the temperature within the work environment properly, and a new fence seems to have curtailed the overflowing trash in the facility’s dumpster,” Cumming wrote.
Dzirasa said the missing tiles in the building’s ceilings “will be replaced once DGS receives an order of tiles that is pending receipt” and her office “is aware of the ongoing alarm issue on the rear emergency door.” For now, staff have been told that “they must close the doors behind them in order for the doors to lock,” she said.
Today’s OIG report is advisory and its recommendations for building improvements would need to be supported by Mayor Brandon Scott and City Administrator Christopher Shorter.
Shorter took charge in January 2021 as city administrator, a new position designed to improve the efficiency and coordination of Health, General Services and other city agencies.
Neither the mayor nor the city administrator has responded to the OIG report, leaving the final word to Dzirasa.
“We take the safety and health of our staff and clients very seriously. We continue to work through unsanitary conditions and maintenance issues identified in the report and other as they are reported,” she wrote, pointing out that “our facilities manager meets with staff at this building every two weeks to discuss and work to resolve any building concerns.”