I-Team uncovers disturbing details about Hayward nursing facility, site of Bay Area's largest COVID-19 outbreak

HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) -- We're getting new accounts from behind the scenes at Gateway Care and Rehabilitation in Hayward where one of the biggest novel coronavirus outbreaks in the state erupted.

The ABC7 News I-Team has interviewed a worker still at Gateway, and a former state nursing home evaluator. They both asked not to be identified, so they can keep their jobs.

They wanted to share their serious concerns about nursing homes owned by Prema and Antony Thekkek.

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State records show that 102 staff and residents at Gateway Care and Rehab in Hayward have been infected with coronavirus, and more than a dozen patients have died.

A Gateway Care and Rehabilitation worker told the I-Team, "It spread really, really fast."

She said the outbreak began a full four weeks ago, and with infected staff sent home to quarantine, those who remain are being pushed to the limit.

"We had a nurse who worked there for 24 hours Saturday and Sunday, and she was just exhausted because there was no other nurse there to be able to help."

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Even before the pandemic, there have been issues with staffing and care at Prema and Antony Thekkeks' nursing homes. Records show they own Gateway and at least six others in the East Bay. On several occasions, the state denied their applications to purchase new facilities, citing poor infection control, abuse of patients, and lack of effective administration.

Now, with Gateway on coronavirus lockdown, the worker said a shortage of staff has made it difficult for families to reach their loved ones, and that there's often no one available to pick up the phone or handle messages.

"There was one that said the last time she got to speak with her husband was five days before he passed," the worker said. "And that's just not acceptable."

We also asked about texts provided by a different staff member. As coronavirus took hold at Gateway, the staffer says Prema Thekkek sent an urgent group message to her other nursing homes.

It said, "We immediately need licensed staff and (certified nursing assistants) at Gateway. What can you all do to help? ... If they don't have staff, we will be forced to move them to your buildings, then we will be facing more problems."

"That's not right to tell someone if you don't send me people, I'm going to send you COVID patients," the Gateway worker told the I-Team. "I mean, first of all, that's just rude, and they're just not patients, that's someone's family."

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A former health facilities evaluator for the California Department of Public Health tells us, moving staff between facilities can spread coronavirus.

"That's been part of the problem with nursing homes and the spread, you do have staff that work in multiple buildings or for multiple companies, they're being exposed in one building, possibly taking it to another building."

She's now a quality improvement specialist at a Bay Area hospital, but while working for the state, she evaluated several of the Thekkek's nursing homes, including Fircrest in Sebastopol. It closed in 2018 after the federal government forbid Fircrest from taking Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Dan Noyes: "What caused them to lose their federal funding?"

Fmr. CDPH Evaluator: "A pattern of safety concerns, people doing tasks that were not appropriate, the maintenance director for example was cooking a meal one day, that's not up to state standards."

Prema and Antony Thekkek have had other staffing issues. Alameda Superior Court records show in 2017, they faced a class action lawsuit, alleging failure to pay wages and overtime. The Thekkeks agreed to a $6 million settlement without admitting wrongdoing.

After our interview about the Thekkeks, the veteran nursing home evaluator got emotional and said, "I was thinking last night, long lives matter, too, and as a culture, I think we're not recognizing that fully."

The Alameda County DA's Office is investigating the patient deaths at Gateway. Prema and Antony Thekkek have not responded to my repeated calls and messages. I've made it clear I'll do an interview any time they want.

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