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.

At the time, Oakmont Senior Living said the state’s allegations were unsubstantiated and filed an appeal.

“All 418 residents were safely evacuated. We are immensely grateful for the heroic lifesaving efforts of our employees and their families, neighbors, residents and their families, and emergency authorities,” the company said in an unsigned Sept. 6 statement. “Our residents and their safety have been, and always will be, our first priority.”

But state regulators said the company had put forward misleading and false statements about how that night unfolded.

No staff remained at either Villa Capri or Varenna “to provide direction or care and supervision to these residents, or to assume oversight of the facilities,” the settlement noted. Staff weren’t properly trained, and failed to use a large bus at Varenna to help in the evacuation.

The settlement placed a stay on license revocation for Villa Capri and Smith, its executive director, as well as Varenna and its executive director, Condie, according to Michael Weston, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services

“Through increased oversight, if we see things of concern we can move forward with a revocation action,” Weston said.

The company will pay an unspecified “monitoring fee” to the state while the licensees are on probation for two years, according to the agreement. After one year, the licensees can petition for their probation to be terminated early.

Oakmont Senior Living and state regulators agreed staff intending to shuttle residents to safety were “precluded” from returning to Varenna or Villa Capri “by local authorities,” according to the settlement. Oakmont officials had claimed Santa Rosa police stationed along Fountaingrove Parkway barred their staff from returning to the facilities.

Emergency plan update

The company was ordered to overhaul its emergency plans to ensure all residents are accounted for before and after evacuation and to present its new policies to the state within 60 days of the order.

Among the changes, Oakmont Senior Living must:

Maintain lists of each resident and their location with specific details so staff can quickly assess who cannot walk and other needs such as medication, glasses and hearing aids.

Ensure staff have up-to-date methods for receiving real-time emergency information from public safety agencies.

Create protocols for notifying residents’ family members about emergency evacuation.

Establish procedures for tracking residents after an evacuation and communicating with relatives.

Ensure it has enough staff on site, particularly overnight, to effectively warn residents during an emergency and “address residents’ needs as reasonably practicable during an evacuation.”

Villa Capri rebuilt

The settlement did not address allegations in the state’s complaint that Oakmont Senior Living violated state laws by clearing the burned-out Villa Capri property before family members had the chance to try to salvage belongings. The state had found at least two Villa Capri residents had been told by company representatives they would “receive communication about property retrieval,” according to the agency allegations.

Santa Rosa city officials conducted a monthslong investigation into the Villa Capri debris removal, determining it was done while the area remained locked down from the public and without a proper debris-removal permit.

Oakmont Senior Living was founded in 1997 by longtime Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher. The company operates more than 20 elder care facilities in California, including four in Fountaingrove before the fire.

Most residents have returned to Varenna.

The company is rebuilding Villa Capri - a process begun while the company was under investigation by the state - and the buildings appear framed and the exterior unfinished.

This month, Oakmont Senior Living hosted open house luncheons inviting prospective residents to apply for spaces at the Villa Capri, expected to open in the spring of 2019, according to a brochure.

Alice Eurotas, the former Villa Capri tenant, is now living at a separate care home in Santa Rosa. Her daughter remains aghast that she was among those abandoned last year as the flames drew near.

“Their reckless behavior and irresponsible business practices endangered the lives of our most vulnerable seniors,” said the younger Eurotas. “This is a sad day for not just seniors in our community, but for all citizens.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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