Lawsuit alleges fraud, elder financial abuse at Oakmont Senior Living
Four senior citizens, including an 82-year-old Santa Rosa man, are suing a chain of residential care facilities founded by Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher, accusing his company of fraudulent practices that allegedly deprived them of needed care and exposed them to risk of injury.
The lawsuit, filed this week against Oakmont Senior Living in Alameda County Superior Court, alleged residents were found on the ground, left to sit in their own waste and at least one suffered an unexplained injury at the company’s assisted living facilities.
Fees at the facilities - which ran as high as $10,000 a month per resident - were based on “budgets driven primarily by desired profit margins” rather than assessments of its residents’ individual needs, the suit claimed.
As a result, the suit said, Oakmont Senior Living facilities were understaffed and residents age 65 and older “run the continuing risk of not having their care needs met and of suffering frustration, pain, discomfort, humiliation and/or injury from inadequate care and supervision.”
Gallaher did not return telephone calls and emails over two days requesting comment through his company and his attorneys.
A spokeswoman said in an email sent Thursday night that Oakmont learned Wednesday the suit had been filed and the company had not been served with a copy.
“We understand similar lawsuits have been filed by the same law firm against other large California assisted living providers, including Brookdale Senior Living, Atria Senior Living and Aegis Living,” said Honey Lopez, spokeswoman for Oakmont Senior Living. “Once we have the opportunity to review the allegations, we will respond accordingly.”
The 43-page complaint did not specify the amount of financial damages it was seeking. If a judge certifies it as a class action case, the number of plaintiffs could expand to thousands and the potential penalties against Oakmont could be in millions of dollars, said Kathryn Stebner, a San Francisco attorney who filed the lawsuit with nine other attorneys.
Oakmont Senior Living, a privately held company based in Windsor and founded by Gallaher in 1997, operates 23 senior living facilities in California from Redding to San Diego, including four in Santa Rosa: Fountaingrove Lodge and Oakmont of The Terraces on Thomas Lake Harris Drive and Oakmont of Villa Capri and Oakmont of Varenna on Fountaingrove Parkway.
The lawsuit alleged that Oakmont violated the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, committed elder financial abuse and engaged in “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent” business practices.
Oakmont had a duty to disclose that resident care assessments were not used to set staffing budgets, creating safety risks for current and future residents who were described as “a vulnerable population,” the suit said.
The company “actively conceals from residents, prospective residents, and their family members the true facts about its corporate policy and practice of prioritizing profit over resident care,” it said.
Stebner said the lawsuit seeks to represent current and former residents of Oakmont facilities in California during the past four years, a class that may number as many as 4,000 people.
Gallaher, who started out as a custom home builder in the 1970s and built more than 480 homes in the Oakmont retirement community, has also constructed apartment complexes, office buildings and shopping centers, according to Oakmont Senior Living’s website.
Gallaher, 66, is also founder and board chairman of First Community Bank, a key early lender to Sonoma Clean Power, the county’s public power supplier.
In July, county supervisors approved the sale of 82 acres on Chanate Road to Gallaher, who plans to build housing on the site and pay up to $11.5 million for the land. A citizens’ group filed a lawsuit in August challenging the deal.
Gallaher and his son-in-law, Scott Flater, filed a libel lawsuit against The Press Democrat in January, alleging they were defamed in a series of stories about unprecedented campaign spending in last year’s Santa Rosa City Council election.
Oakmont Senior Living is owned and operated by the Gallaher family, according to the company’s website. It has planned and developed more than 40 retirement communities in the western United States, including assisted living facilities that provide daily assistance to people who are unable to care for themselves. Unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities do not provide medical care.
Donald Lollock of Santa Rosa, who has Parkinson’s disease and dementia, is one of four living plaintiffs who filed the suit against Oakmont. He resided at Oakmont of Villa Capri for three years and paid fees that reached an average of about $10,800 a month, the suit said.
In January 2016, only one caregiver was available in his unit for more than a dozen residents with dementia who needed assistance with feeding, walking, showering, using the toilet and other daily activities, the suit said.
Lollock’s wife, Kathy, frequently found her husband in “urine soaked pants” because he had not been taken to the toilet every two hours, as he needed, and sometimes found him with “feces crusted around his groin,” the suit said.
Lollock, who had trouble using a device to alert staff, was left alone and unsupervised for long periods of time, and his wife once found him on the floor, it said. In May 2016, he “had a broken rib that Oakmont could not explain,” the suit said.
In September 2016, his wife moved him to another facility.
Two of the other plaintiffs - Frank Pearson, 89, and Jo Ella Nashadka, 88 - are residents at Oakmont of Mariner Point in Alameda, and Jane Burton-Whitaker, 74, is a former resident of that facility.
A fifth person, Abdulwafi Kahn, also a former resident of the Alameda facility, died at age 75 and is represented in the lawsuit by his daughter.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday. Stebner said she and other lawyers handling the complaint will gather information and seek class action certification in a matter of months or possibly a year.