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Contributed photo by Morning Pointe / Work is ongoing to repair the Lantern at Morning Pointe Alzheimer's Center of Excellence on Shallowford Road in East Brainerd. The 130 residents who lived in the facility a year ago had to be transferred to other Morning Pointe facilities after Easter night tornadoes in 2020 nearly destroyed the building.

An East Brainerd Alzheimer's facility toppled by tornadoes nearly a year ago is preparing to reopen by June as part of $15 million in repairs made at two seniors centers damaged during the Easter night storms in April 2020.

The Ooltewah-based Morning Pointe, which operated both an assisted living and memory loss facility in the path of the Chattanooga tornadoes last year, plans to have both facilities operating again by this summer after being rebuilt in the past year. Greg Vital, president of Morning Pointe, said the ribbon cutting for the assisted living center is planned for April 15 after its soft reopening last November and he expects the nearby Lantern at Morning Pointe Alzheimer's Center of Excellence to reopen by mid-June to move residents back in the facility by July 1.

The Easter night tornadoes in April 2020 that ripped through East Brainard forced the evacuation of 130 residents at the Morning Pointe facilities on Shallowford Road. Although no one was injured from the storms, residents had to be evacuated to local hotels after the tornado and, ultimately, relocated to nearby Morning Pointe campuses, as rebuilding efforts for both Morning Pointe of Chattanooga and The Lantern began in earnest.

A large drive-through portico now marks the entrance of the rebuilt Lantern facility and the interior is all-new with updated apartment floor plans and a layout that better suits memory care residents.

"We've tried to rebuild with some improvements and we've worked hard over the past year to accommodate those who lived in these storm-damaged facilities to locate at other Morning Pointe facilities," Vital said Monday. "It's a complete rebuilding of our community and our census that was destroyed with the physical damage to our facility from the tornadoes. We hope to rebuild and grow with both existing and new residents."

Vital said the tornado damages were the worst for any Morning Pointe facility in the 25-year history of the company.

"By the time it is all done, the damages to these two buildings was in excess of $15 million," Vital said. "Insurance never covers everything."

The assisted living facility which served about 75 people was only five years old when the tornadoes hit the structure. The Alzheimer's Memory facility which has a capacity of 59 residents, was built around 2000, but it had undergone several expansions over the past two decades.

The Lantern offers two stages of memory care: Lamplight, a program for those living with early to moderate stages of Alzheimer's disease, and Lantern, a program geared toward those with late to moderately severe Alzheimer's.

"Nothing thrills me more than to see this building coming back to life," said Alisha Landes, the executive director of the Lantern. "When the tornado destroyed our building last spring, I wasn't sure how we would make it back—but with God's help, we are coming back stronger than ever."

Vital said the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited visitations and activities and forced more sanitation and other programs, made last year the most difficult year yet for Morning Pointe since Vital and J. Franklin Farrow started the company in 1996.

"It's been a very difficult year and particularly challenging with the tornadoes on top of the pandemic," Vital said. "Fortunately, over 98% of our residents are now vaccinated and we've been able to open up more of our facilities for visitation and programs, still observing health guidelines."

Despite those challenges, Vital said he always knew they should rebuild the East Brainerd facilities after the tornadoes damaged the buildings.

"We never doubted that we needed to return these facilities into service, "Vital said. "Both of these buildings were full when we were hit by the tornadoes and the need for assisted living and Alzheimer's memory loss facilities is greater than ever."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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