A Gallatin nursing home is being sued by the daughter of a former resident who died following a widespread COVID-19 outbreak at the facility that killed two dozen others earlier this year.
Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing resident Clara Ruth Summers, 89, died on March 29 just days after being hospitalized and testing positive for the coronavirus, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the facility earlier this month in Sumner County Circuit Court.
Hendersonville-based medical malpractice lawyer Clint Kelly, who represents Summers’ daughter Debbie Bolton, said the case centers around “reckless behavior” and “gross negligence” that took place at the facility and ultimately cost lives.
“She shouldn’t have died,” Kelly told the Gallatin News about the outbreak. “(The nursing home) knew what was coming, but they just didn’t get prepared for it. And then when it came, they didn’t take it seriously.”
According to the lawsuit, several staff members at the nursing home were allowed to work despite having symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Residents who had symptoms were also moved to different rooms throughout the nursing home and were placed in close proximity to other residents who did not have any symptoms at the time.
The 23-page court filing also claims the facility did not have an appropriate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that employees were not required to keep their nose and mouth covered by a mask. Two employees who traveled to New York in early March were also not placed on a 14-day quarantine before allegedly being allowed to return to work.
“Members of (the facility’s) management knew or suspected that residents at the nursing home had been exposed to COVID-19,” according the lawsuit. “Nevertheless, they attempted to cover it up by concealing facts about the exposure not only from families of residents but also from the staff.”
Andrew Sheeley, counsel to the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, said in an email to the Gallatin News last week that he could not comment specifically on the details about the care and treatment Summers received while at the facility, “except to confirm that it was timely and appropriate.”
“We strongly deny these allegations,” Sheeley added about the lawsuit. “It is not uncommon for plaintiff’s attorneys to include a multitude of allegations when drafting up a lawsuit. It does not mean the allegations are true. It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove the allegations.
“As we are all well aware at this point, the coronavirus outbreak has swept through senior living facilities across the globe killing thousands of at-risk elderly people. As is abundantly clear, Gallatin Center is not the only skilled nursing facility impacted by this tragic pandemic.”
Sheeley also referenced public comments made by Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey following the outbreak that characterized the facility’s response as being “perfectly adequate” and that “no deficient practices” were found by the department following an investigation.
There have been 25 deaths from COVID-19 reported at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing following a widespread outbreak at the facility in late March. In all, 99 residents and 69 staff members at the nursing home tested positive for the virus in what remains the largest outbreak to occur at any long-term care facility in the state, according to the most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Health.
While the lawsuit is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be set by the court, Kelly said it’s not about the money.
“The basic purpose of the lawsuit is to prevent them from killing other people,” Kelly said. “If this changes the corporate behavior to any extent then we’ve done something good for the community.”
A court hearing for the case had not yet been set as of Monday afternoon.