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News Literacy Week: Jennifer Kraus discusses her COVID-19 nursing home investigation

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Posted at 7:04 AM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 08:04:28-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — At NewsChannel 5 we are committed to ensuring every report we bring you is founded in facts.

As part of News Literacy Week, we want to give you a behind-the-lens look at how our Investigates team takes a tip and turns it into a series of reports that hold the powerful accountable.

The Investigates team starts each day with a meeting, now on Zoom.

Seven people attend, including the Assistant News Director, the Investigates Producer, two photographers as well as reporters Phil Williams, Jennifer Kraus and Ben Hall.

During one of those meetings in March at the start of the pandemic, Jennifer Kraus shared a tip about multiple COVID-19 cases inside The Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation And Healing.

"At this point we were still coming to grips with the Coronavirus even being in Tennessee. We could not imagine that it was getting into our nursing homes," Jennifer Kraus said during a recent interview about the nursing home story.

Jennifer did what we do with tips.

She started making calls, trying to confirm what she was hearing.

"We had people telling us, 'there are cases in here,' and we were hearing from more and more people, but we could not confirm anything, so we did not report it initially. It was several days of working the phones," Jennifer remembered.

The 200-bed Gallatin nursing home assured families on Facebook and conference calls they had nothing to worry about.

The state and county health departments released little information.

"Initially the health department was saying, 'nothing to see here, not really anything going on here,'" Jennifer said.

Public documents helped shed light on what was really happening inside the facility.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates reviewed logs of Sumner County's medical calls and discovered first responders were told to treat every call to the facility as if the patient was positive for COVID. The logs noted they were "not for public knowledge."

Finally, the health department admitted there was a cluster inside the nursing home.

Jennifer kept pressing for more information.

"It was important to bring this out, and expose what was going on there, to put pressure on them, so the state and county health department actually did something," Jennifer said.

After days of reporting - things took a dramatic turn.

Friday evening, dozens of ambulances, some from other counties, started transporting elderly patients out of the nursing home.

"By that weekend we heard there were 50 some odd patients who had tested positive for Coronavirus or showing symptoms," Jennifer said.

The morning after the evacuation Jennifer received a call from a family member of a resident who said their loved one had died from COVID.

"Less than 12 hours after everyone was evacuated we were hearing of someone who died," Jennifer said.

But she could not prove the person died of COVID.

Jennifer stuck to reporting only what she could prove and working closely with our producer and relying on legal advice from the attorney who advises the Investigates team.

"We are very careful about what we put on. I don't just report what people tell me. We have a whole team, a series of layers of people that it goes through," Jennifer said.

Jennifer went on to produce multiple reports about the Gallatin nursing home, as well as others across the state.

Each time following the same principles.

"I think it's important to hold those in power accountable," Jennifer said.

She continued verifying everything to determine what was fact and what was just a rumor and continually pressed for more information.

"The process sometimes takes a little longer, but when we get it on, we know what we believe to be true and accurate," Jennifer said.

Watch for more reports about how our investigates team produces stories as part of News Literacy Week.