Families sue Atlanta senior-care facility at heart of deadly Covid-19 outbreak

Arbor Terrace at Cascade, where at least 16 residents have died.

(CNN)Three families are suing a home for seniors in Atlanta after the deaths of elderly residents who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The lawsuits allege that the home -- where at least 16 residents have died -- failed to take precautions necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among residents and staff at the assisted-living facility.
"From what we've seen this is the worst single outbreak at an assisted living facility, that we know of, in Georgia," said Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington at an April 17 news conference.
Four lawsuits were filed in Fulton County State Court Thursday against Arbor Terrace at Cascade, its corporate owners and management alleging gross negligence and wrongful death in connection with the deaths of four residents, including a married couple. The lawsuits seek undetermined damages.
    CNN reached out to the company that manages Arbor Terrace at Cascade for a response to the lawsuits.
    Judd Harper, president of Atlanta-based The Arbor Company, referred CNN to this statement, which reads: "To prepare for the pandemic, we closed the community to all visitors on March 11th and implemented safety measures recommended by the CDC and local health authorities. These continued safety measures include daily symptom screening of all staff and residents and the required use of PPE."
    "Despite all of our pandemic readiness and heightened efforts, this is a disease that disproportionately impacts the elderly and those with severe underlying medical conditions," Harper said in the statement.
    Ernestine Mann, an Arbor Terrace resident who died last month. She was 84.
    Additionally, Harper said in an April 20 letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that after a resident tested positive for Covid-19 on March 26, the facility had "immediately put the community in quarantine" and rolled out a detailed plan to contain the spread of the virus, including providing "adequate PPE supplies," enhanced cleanings and PPE training for staff, as well as "daily symptom screening of all staff, residents, and visitors."
    Harper also thanked the state for its help, noting the National Guard had "provided cleaning for the community on two separate occasions."
    Harper acknowledged that despite these steps and an additional cleaning by a private company, 29 residents and 34 of the 80 staff members at Arbor Terrace at Cascade had tested positive for the virus by April 6, according to the letter.
    A post on the Facebook page of Commissioner Joe Carn, who represents Fulton County's 6th district, confirms the number of infections at the facility.
    According to the lawsuits, staff at Arbor Terrace failed to comply with restrictions put in place by the facility by "failing to wear Personal Protective Equipment." Asymptomatic staff also continued working at Arbor Terrace after they'd been exposed to Covid-19, according to the lawsuits.
    The lawsuits also allege Arbor Terrace and its employees failed to "restrict visitation by individuals from outside the facility. Roderick Edmond, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, says family members also told him, "they saw the staff going in the residents' (rooms) without gloves and face masks."
    When asked about Edmond's allegation and the specifics of the lawsuits, the company that manages Arbor Terrace referred back to the statement from Harper.
    Dr. Kathi Earles, a member of the Fulton County Board of Health, told CNN after the April 17 news conference that there had been an "unacceptable" communication issue between the facility and the families.
    "Today (April 17), the individuals who have loved ones at Arbor Terrace received a detailed letter stating what is going on. But this is the first detailed letter that they have received," Earles said. "They have had to call, they have had to speak to the manager directly, they've had to get groups together, they've have to consider going to the media to receive the information that they need to receive about their loved ones. That is unacceptable."
    Kelli Luneborg-Stern, a spokeswoman for Arbor Terrace, told CNN Saturday that facility had sent more than 14 letters to residents and their families detailing precautions the facility has been taking. CNN has not seen the letters.
      Edmond, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he had known Ernestine Mann, one of the residents who died, for his entire life. Mann was a well-respected and active member at his church, he said.
      "These people worked their whole lives and were in their golden years," and did not deserve to die like this, he said. "It's sad. These families need to have accountability."