It took a parade of 54 ambulances, two ambubuses and a wheelchair van from throughout Middle Tennessee to evacuate the sick residents of a nursing home in Gallatin.
Between Friday and Sunday, nearly 100 patients from the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing were transported to the local hospital. Each had tested positive for COVID-19, though the nursing home said most had no symptoms.
On Friday night, 24 patients were evacuated. An additional 17 patients became symptomatic Saturday and moved to the Sumner Regional Medical Center. State officials and the Tennessee Guard moved in to test every patient and employee and found another 59 cases among the residents and 33 with the staff.
All the patients were moved to hospitals. Two deaths have now been confirmed by Sumner Regional.
“It’s truly a horrendous situation,” Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown said Sunday afternoon. “This nursing home proves how easily this virus spreads.”
State health officials have stepped in to oversee the disinfecting of the nursing home. The facility, which has a total of 175 residents, is placing all of them in area hospitals.
“Our mission since the beginning of this global pandemic has been to be as proactive as possible, and we will continue to do so,” the nursing home said in a statement to patients and their families late Sunday.
Questions About Response
But public officials have begun to express some concern about the nursing home’s handling of the outbreak.
Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt said there’s been some “miscommunication” about the severity of the situation. He notes that nursing homes are overseen by the state.
“We don’t have a lot of leverage with those folks, but you can see that this has not turned out real well,” he said at a Sunday evening press conference. “So their response has not been adequate. I’ll leave it at that.”
Holt says the local hospitals are close to being overwhelmed, especially if the virus continues to spread at this pace. And emergency officials expect that it will.
Sumner County officials are suggesting that everyone stay home to stop the localized outbreak. But they’ve stopped short of a mandate or even requiring businesses to shut down, beyond what the state has already done.
Facing criticism from residents on Facebook about Gallatin’s response, Mayor Brown says people should stay home without being ordered.
“I realize the consequences of entirely shutting down a city and what that could result in,” she said. “Not to mention the fact that if we shut down Gallatin, the same people are just going to go to a neighboring city, and it’s going to continue to spread.”
Brown says the freedom afforded to Americans also gives them the responsibility to follow guidance from public officials.
Especially with emergency officials focused on transporting nursing home patients, Mayor Holt says he wouldn’t be able to enforce a stay-at-home order.
Physicians from around Tennessee have been pressuring Gov. Bill Lee to institute a statewide stay-home order. He’s resisted but said Friday he hasn’t ruled it out.