ATHENS, Ga. — At least four nurses at a critical care hospital in Athens have accused the facility of creating a scheme to falsify COVID-19 test results.
In court documents filed this week, the nurses claimed Landmark Hospital in Athens intentionally manipulated test results to cover up an outbreak at the facility.
One former and one current Landmark nurse agreed to tell 11Alive how the hospital allegedly does it. Both agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
“When they had someone who would turn out positive, they would re-do the test so that it would come back negative and they would say that it was a false positive,” explained one of the nurses
The nurses said the hospital instructed staff to take samples from inside someone’s throat, but send the samples to a lab run by Piedmont Hospital that only tests nasal swabs, knowing the results would turn out negative for COVID-19.
According to the documents filed in Gwinnett Couty Superior Court, “Landmark had previously attempted to submit tracheal swabs to the lab at Piedmont, and these samples had been rejected as the lab was not able to perform tests on these types of specimens.”
Despite knowing the lab would reject tracheal samples, the documents claimed “Landmark purposefully submitted these samples with purposefully incorrect labels to orchestrate negative results for patients who had previously tested positive for COVID-19.”
“Once our testing, the proper way, starting coming back positive, we then weren’t allowed to take samples any longer,” said a different nurse who still works at the hospital.
One nurse told 11Alive when she properly administered a test, her boss retaliated.
“I did the test, and it did turn out positive and I was terminated for not having a doctor’s order for a test,” the nurse said.
Natalie Woodward and Brian Cathey are attorneys representing the nurses. On Wednesday, they filed a temporary restraining order pleading for a judge to step in.
“The number one purpose is to have a court step in and take this over, have everyone tested appropriately, stop all discharges, transfers or admissions until the right procedure is done to figure out how wide spread it is,” Woodward said.
“I think they got to the point, where if they didn’t do this, they weren’t providing the care they needed to for their patients,” Cathey said.
Harry Heiman is Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of Health Management and Policy at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.
He said it’s essential to properly test patients so the state has accurate COVID-19 case numbers.
“So, intentionally taking a swab from the trachea and labeling it as coming from the nose will lead to it being handled improperly by the lab that’s analyzing it and will not likely lead to accurate result,” Heiman said. “That’s what is alleged to be happening at this facility, and that’s unethical and dangerous both to the patients and to the staff.”
In a statement, Landmark Hospital CEO Marie Saylor wrote to 11Alive that “we can assure you that we will vigorously investigate allegations and defend our hospital and its staff against misleading and false claims.”
“[The hospital] follows CDC, state and local guidelines as well as established protocols and procedures for COVID-19 testing. We are fully cooperating with all government inquiries about our operations, and look forward to promptly and fully resolving this matter,” Saylor added.
Landmark is located in Athens-Clarke County, where it has experienced a slow and steady rise in virus cases over the past few months.
As of Thursday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports the county has 363 total positive cases with 15 total deaths and 54 total hospitalizations.
To the best of their knowledge, Landmark said it has no current positive COVID-19 patients. At least one current nurse told 11Alive that’s not true.
“You’re lying to your patients," the nurse said. "You’re lying to your family members and quite frankly for a disease that has killed so many people, quit being so careless."
A judge could make a decision whether to intervene in the next few days.