Operator of Santa Rosa care homes admits staff abandoned seniors in Tubbs fire
Staff members at two Santa Rosa care homes abandoned elderly and infirm residents as the October 2017 firestorm advanced on the pair of facilities, leaving relatives and emergency responders to rush in and evacuate those left behind, Oakmont Senior Living officials admitted for the first time in a settlement with state regulators that will allow the facilities to operate going forward.
Staff at the two adjacent Fountaingrove facilities, Oakmont of Villa Capri and Oakmont of Varenna, both owned by Windsor-based Oakmont Senior Living, were not prepared to deal with a crisis like the fast-moving Tubbs fire and failed to warn all residents of the emergency before they fled the facilities on the fire’s first night, according to the 17-page agreement finalized Monday with the state Department of Social Services.
Admissions by Oakmont Senior Living in the settlement represent a sharp departure from the public defense the company mounted after the fires calling the response by its staff that night “heroic.” That defense began even as the Tubbs fire still burned last October, when relatives of residents came forward to complain their loved ones had been left behind in their homes as the fire approached.
The settlement averted a public hearing scheduled for next month where state regulators were set to lay out evidence and findings from their yearlong investigation before a state administrative law judge.
News of the agreement disheartened some relatives who awaited that public airing of the case against the company.
“I was really disappointed. I wanted the findings to continue and wanted victims to go to this hearing,” said Beth Eurotas, whose 85-year-old mother, Alice, lived at Villa Capri. She was rescued only after other residents’ family members discovered she and others were stranded there.
Eurotas was among a group of relatives and residents who sued Oakmont Senior Living and its affiliates last year, alleging staff had abandoned people in immediate peril at the two facilities.
Oakmont rejected their claim, accused some residents of endangering themselves that night and ultimately settled the lawsuits out of court this summer, with terms kept confidential.
Until now, the company never publicly admitted any fault.
“Most importantly they admitted they did wrong,” Eurotas said Tuesday, reacting to news of the settlement. “They have never admitted that before.”
Oakmont Senior Living representatives and lawyers did not respond to multiple emails and calls Tuesday seeking comment.
Abandoned 100 people
Villa Capri, a high-end 72-bed assisted living and memory care home, was destroyed in the inferno while the Varenna site, licensed for up to 322 residents, was spared. All residents at both facilities survived the fires, though plaintiffs who sued Oakmont alleged that trauma from the evacuations hastened the deaths of three residents.
State investigators found the company’s staff abandoned about 100 people as the inferno advanced on Fountaingrove, including about 20 people at Villa Capri who would have died without a rescue by relatives and first responders.
The state had threatened to strip Oakmont Senior Living of its licenses to operate both facilities and to permanently bar two of its top administrators from running senior care facilities in the future.
The settlement, however, allows the Oakmont facilities to retain their licenses under terms that allow state regulators greater supervision and ability to sanction or shut down the homes over the next ?two years if the company does not bring emergency plans and training up to state standards.
Staff must remain on-site until all residents are evacuated and be able to track residents and their needs during an emergency and its aftermath, according to the settlement.
The deal allows the two administrators, Deborah Smith and Nathan Condie, to continue working, under requirements that they also follow new job conditions spelled out by the state.
Made false statements
For some families with relatives living at Varenna, news of the settlement brought relief. They had wanted the company to be held accountable for improving its procedures without forcing their loved ones to move.
“I think it would have been a hardship for a lot of people if they did lose their license,” said Lynn Galeazzi Devris, whose 96-year-old father is a Varenna resident. “As long as they make changes and do the right thing, I think that’s what matters.”
The settlement comes after state regulators in early September released their findings that the company failed to protect scores of residents in its care in October 2017, amounting to numerous violations of state safety codes, according to regulators’ 18-page complaint.