Current and Past Tennessee Officials Warn of a ‘Hole in Our Defense of Nursing Homes’ with COVID-19


A man who ran TennCare during the 1990s said Thursday that he expects Tennessee will, within weeks, record a spike in the number of nursing home patients who contract COVID-19.

That man, Rusty Siebert, warned The Tennessee Star Thursday that the goings-on at a Williamson County nursing home might justify his fears.

Siebert, who directed TennCare under former Gov. Don Sundquist, would not identify the facility.

Siebert said a nursing home employee and a patient there tested positive for COVID-19 at a local hospital. They were both asymptomatic. Hospital staff sent the patient back to the nursing home. The nursing home put the patient in isolation.

And Siebert said he’s in a position to know that a nursing homes’ ventilation systems might not safeguard all the residents against the spread of COVID-19.

“Suppose it’s your mother, your mother-in-law, or your father in a nursing home. Suppose a worker comes in with it [COVID-19] or another patient comes with it. Do you want them taken care of in a hospital where they have the proper facilities to take care of them? And isolated away from your mother or father? Or do you want them brought back in there and put in a room where we are doing pretend isolation?” Siebert asked.

“We’ll lock the door. There aren’t long hallways. Nursing home facilities are filled, so there isn’t anything like a football field between the patients that are locked in their room and someone in isolation. Think of air systems. Think of New York right now.”

Siebert, who lives in Brentwood, said he relayed his concerns to State Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin).

Casada said Thursday that he then took the matter to state officials, who confirmed that what Siebert described was, in fact, “going on” and that there was “a hole in our defense of nursing homes.”

“It’s being addressed, and I doubt if my conversation precipitated it. I don’t know the history, but I will say that Rusty got my attention. I called the [Tennessee] Department of Health,” Casada told The Star.

“I was informed that all employees were being tested, as well as the patients, and they will be isolated if a positive occurs. I reported that I had heard that someone, an employee and a patient had tested positive and was reintroduced into a nursing home population. They didn’t know about the specifics. I didn’t feel comfortable giving names. They said that we are addressing this, and so that was the conversation.”

TDH spokesman Bill Christian said in an email Thursday that it’s up to the nursing home facilities, not the local health department, to test residents and staff.

“Tennessee Department of Health staff members and Tennessee National Guard members stand at the ready to assist in testing should a facility reach out to request assistance,” Christian said.

No one from Gov. Bill Lee’s office returned our request for comment Thursday.

Sibert, meanwhile, said he predicts the number of confirmed cases at nursing homes will shoot up within three weeks.

“They have enough legs on it right now that they have been readmitting COVID positive patients back in the nursing homes,” Siebert said.

“I think at any one point in time between now and the end of next month we will see a huge increase in nursing home deaths. And I think that they could have been prevented.”

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]







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