The longtime head of the state office responsible for nursing home inspections will retire, officials at the Maryland Department of Health announced about a month after advocates filed a lawsuit claiming the agency was so behind in its work that severe harms to disabled residents were going unchecked.

The officials said they are conducting a national search for a new executive director to replace Dr. Patricia Nay, who has worked in the Office of Health Care Quality since 2008.

“We are committed to finding a highly qualified health care quality expert to lead this critical office,” Dr. Laura Herrera Scott, state health secretary, said in a statement. “Marylanders expect our regulated health care providers to provide high quality care to our patients, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

The resignation is effective June 27, and Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, a deputy health secretary, will serve as acting director.

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Kalyanaraman sent an email message to staff Thursday to announce Nay’s retirement and thank her for her extended service. He also thanked the staff for its work and didn’t mention the inspections backlog.

“The department appreciates and recognizes the critical role that the Office of Health Care Quality plays in the health care continuum and in protecting the health and safety of Marylanders,” he said, adding he was working with health department leadership on a smooth transition.

Nay had been director since 2014 after serving as acting director for a year. She joined the office in 2008.

The Office of Health Care Quality inspects health care facilities in the state, and also licenses them and investigates complaints from the public.

Officials did not directly tie the retirement to the advocates’ lawsuit but said in a news release that they are actively analyzing ways to improve processes in the office. The release noted that people receiving care should feel that their facility has meet all the regulatory standards.

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“There is much work to be done within the Office of Health Care Quality,” Kalyanaraman said in a statement in the news release. “Since the pandemic, health care services across the country have struggled as they reel from staffing setbacks and other challenges. The department will hire leadership that builds trust and maintains Maryland’s strict standards for quality care.”

The lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court by the Public Justice Center and others said residents were “left without a lifeline to the agency responsible for investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and other serious rights violations.”

The lawsuit said residents with severe mobility issues suffered bedsores, infections and falls, in addition to emotional trauma from being left alone in their beds and isolated from others. And it said this was possible because of the lack of inspections.

The lawsuit, joined by the advocacy group Justice in Aging and the law firm Arnold & Porter, named five residents and was filed as a proposed class action for a pool of some 9,000 mobility-impaired residents.

The advocates and other observers had said many states did not have adequate oversight of nursing homes during the pandemic. But Maryland had more trouble restarting inspections since then. They said both the inspections office and the nursing homes have been understaffed.

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The advocate said nursing home residents are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized in the state. A third of Maryland’s 51,000 nursing home residents are Black and end up in the facilities with the lowest federal ratings.

There are 225 privately operated nursing homes in the state, and 80% had not had a required annual inspection that would have revealed neglect or abuse, the lawsuit said. Fewer than half of the 13,000 complaints from residents and their families in the past three years had been investigated.

The state health department doesn’t comment on pending litigation. At the time the lawsuit was filed, Joseph DeMattos, the president and CEO of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, acknowledged annual inspections were “slow and lacking,” though he said that didn’t mean residents were harmed.

Still, he said, “The lawsuit is troubling.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit couldn’t immediately be reached.