Broken plumbing, sewage backup and rat infestation force closure of Santa Rosa senior care home
Local authorities have shut down a Santa Rosa assisted living home where elderly residents had been without running water or working toilets for 12 days after a sewage backup beneath the building and amid evidence of rat infestation, according to county and city officials.
Residents of Redwood Senior Living, a 26-bed home in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, were relocated to other facilities after Santa Rosa code enforcement officials and county health authorities documented the squalid conditions on June 9 and issued an order to vacate the home immediately.
Problems at the Burbank Avenue site were first raised June 8 by a local senior advocacy group, which had heard of the issues through a tipster.
Inspectors visited the next day and found a host of health and building code violations, including no running water in the facility, piles of garbage and evidence of rats in a shed storing food, according to a Sonoma County environmental health division report.
In restrooms throughout the home, plastic bags had been placed in toilets and filled with cat litter — a makeshift fix after the plumbing breakdown, according to the county. Photos from the site inspection showed clear plastic liners stretched under the toilet seats, many of them filled with soiled toilet paper.
County and city officials shut down the site the same day and all 18 of the residents were relocated. Five were moved to a senior care facility in Petaluma and 13 residents were put up at a motel on Santa Rosa Avenue, according to Anthony Barbato, owner of Redwood Senior Living.
He said he is covering relocation expenses for residents, as required by state health and safety code.
Officials inspected and shut the facility less than 24 hours after being alerted by Senior Advocacy Services, a Santa Rosa nonprofit that serves as the North Bay’s longterm care ombudsman.
“These conditions were abysmal,” said Crista Barnett Nelson, executive director of Senior Advocacy Services. “Our systems in place need to do better, we need to do better...It was so disappointing to see these residents who are reliant upon us to care for them, and this is the best that we can do?”
Christine Sosko, director of Sonoma County’s environmental health division, said in 16 years with the agency she had never encountered the use of pet litter and plastic bags as a temporary remedy for toilet services.
“It’s heartbreaking because we just want everyone to be healthy and safe, we don’t want anyone to be living in substandard housing conditions,” she said.
The state Department of Social Services, which regulates assisted living facilities, is conducting an investigation into the plumbing breakdown at the facility, according to a state report. The agency has received no other complaints about the facility since Barbato took it over earlier this year.
State actions could include a citation and plan of correction, civil penalties and the imposition of heightened monitoring. In serious cases, the state may order a temporary suspension of a facility’s license, state officials said.
Water at the facility had been shut off since May 28 because of a broken sewer line that was dumping raw sewage beneath building, according to a county health report that described the violations.
Barbato, the Redwood Senior Living owner, said he’s doing everything he can to fix problems at the 50-year-old home, including what he called some “deferred maintenance.” He said the plumbing system has been repaired and will be tested following a county inspection of septic and well water systems.
The property, in a part of Roseland annexed into Santa Rosa in 2017, is not connected to municipal water and sewer systems.
Barbato said the problems did not get in the way of good care at the home. He said he’s not heard complaints from family members about substandard conditions.
“The main thing we’ve heard from families is that (they) appreciate the care that’s being provided. All the staff are very caring,” he said.
Tip leads to site visit
Barnett Nelson said her agency was notified about the conditions at Redwood Senior Living through a “mandated reporter,“ who faxed a report of suspected elder abuse on Monday, June 7.
"They sent it to our office and said they had no water and that they were using plastic bags over the toilet and that they were not cleaning them on a regular basis,” Barnett Nelson said.
The following day, Senior Advocacy Services staff conducted a site visit and took photographs of conditions in the residents’ rooms, she said
“I called county public health that Tuesday night and by Wednesday, the whole team was at the facility,” Barnett Nelson said.