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'Where the Gallatin nursing home failed, and failed multiple times': What may have led to big COVID outbreak

Gallatin nursing home
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Gallatin NURSING HOME LAWSUIT screening form clips
Gallatin Nursing Home covid lawsuit screening form highlighted
Gallatin NURSING HOME covid LAWSUIT screen forms
Posted at 7:32 PM, Nov 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-15 20:32:22-05

GALLATIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Who could forget the scene outside the Gallatin nursing home two years ago?

One night, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up, emergency crews were called in to remove all of the elderly residents from the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing after the virus had somehow gotten into the building and quickly spread. But how did that happen?

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Evacuation of Gallatin nursing home

Internal documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates appear to show how the nursing home may have allowed COVID in.

It was Tennessee's first big COVID outbreak.

By mid-April of 2020, the state had confirmed 161 cases at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, with 19 fatalities — more than all of the other nursing homes in Tennessee combined.

And now, we may know why so many here got sick.

"There’s no way you could look at the screening forms and say, 'You all are screening properly,'" attorney Clint Kelly said.

Weeks before the outbreak at the Gallatin Center, federal regulators had instructed nursing homes to screen all residents and employees before allowing them in, to help keep COVID out.

"And that’s where the Gallatin nursing home failed, and failed multiple times," Kelly stated.

Kelly now represents 25 families who are suing the Gallatin Center and its owner, the New Jersey-based CareRite.

As part of the discovery process in those lawsuits, Kelly obtained the completed screening forms filled out at the Gallatin Center just before and at the beginning of the outbreak.

"No one has seen these but me," he told a roomful of those families in a Hendersonville hotel meeting room recently, gathered to hear the latest on the litigation.

The forms have a place where the screener was supposed to record the person's temperature. There's also a series of questions that ask, "Do you feel ill? Do you have a fever or have you had any cold or flu-like symptoms in the last 24 hours? Or been around someone who has?"

Anyone with a fever or symptoms, the form stated, was supposed to stay out.

But many of the screening forms have no recorded temperature.

"How does she get into the facility?" Kelly asked as he pointed to one of those forms.

Other forms show temperatures nowhere near normal or humanly possible.

"I’ve never had a thermometer in my life tell me it’s 90.2," Kelly said as he focused on another form.

And a number of people listening to his presentation cautiously laughed as he highlighted the temperature recorded on another screening form and asked, "When was the last time any of you had a temperature of 83.2?"

Kelly said the Gallatin Center repeatedly allowed people into the facility with screening forms that left multiple questions blank.

Gallatin Nursing Home covid lawsuit screening form highlighted

"I don’t know how you could possibly let in somebody to the facility without answering these four questions," Kelly asked the audience as he pointed to the series of questions asking about whether the person felt ill, had a fever, was experiencing any other symptoms, or had been around someone who had.

Then, he showed the family members a screening form for Dawn Cochran who was the nursing home's administrator at the time.

"I know Dawn Cochran had not been out of the country, but at least you could’ve answered the question. Right? And look here. 'Have you had cold or flu symptoms such as cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, headache, or shortness of breath in the last 24 hours?' No answer!" Kelly pointed out.

But perhaps most concerning are the forms where employees indicated they were sick, some even stating that they had COVID-like symptoms.

Kelly highlighted several of them, including one with multiple illness indicators.

"Look at all the yeses on there! She has three out of four," he said.

And with another screening form, Kelly said, "She circled cough; so, she’s had cough in the last 24 hours."

With still another form, he read, "Has cold and flu symptoms within the last 24 hours and has been in contact with someone who has flu symptoms."

Gallatin NURSING HOME LAWSUIT screening form clips

Yet, Kelly explained that timecard records show all of these people who either did not properly fill out their screening forms or stated that they were sick were allowed into the nursing home and expected to work.

"The nursing home had a responsibility to all of you and your family members, and they failed you," Kelly told the families who are suing the Gallatin Center.

After the meeting was over, some of those families told NewsChannel 5 Investigates they were stunned by what they'd heard.

"I never knew. I didn’t know they were that lax," said John Harrison, who lost his wife to COVID.

"We had no clue it was that bad," added Julie Brackenbury, whose stepmother died.

Carl Grace's mother got sick from COVID during the outbreak.

"They [the nursing home] didn’t do the proper screening, which means that they didn’t care about the patients," Grace said.

The families are now calling their unofficial group "Sumner Citizens for Justice," and they say they're more determined now than ever to hold those responsible accountable.

"It's not about the money. It’s all about what they [the nursing home] did wrong," Bonnie Lowe, whose mother died from COVID, explained.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates did reach out to CareRite, the parent company of the Gallatin Center, and never got a response.

Meanwhile, attorney Clint Kelly says about one out of every four forms has some sort of issue or concerning response on it.

Gallatin NURSING HOME covid LAWSUIT screen forms

The families hope their cases will go to trial next year.

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