Santa Rosa senior homes faulted in fires could live on despite state attempt to revoke licenses

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State regulators’ attempt to revoke the licenses of two Santa Rosa senior care homes accused of abandoning residents during the October wildfires could result in a wide range of outcomes that won’t require the remaining residents to leave, experts said Friday.

Oakmont Senior Living, which operated the two luxury senior care homes in Fountaingrove, could negotiate a settlement with state regulators or attempt to overturn the action before an administrative law judge, said Michael Weston, spokesman for the state Department of Social Services.

The judge, too, has an array of options, ranging from rescinding the company’s licenses to operate Varenna and Villa Capri to placing it on probation or ruling in its favor, he said.

Regulators initiated proceedings Thursday to strip Oakmont Senior Living of its licenses to operate the neighboring care homes. The company was given 15 days to appeal the action.

Weston would not say whether the Department of Social Services is willing to settle the case or speculate about potential terms of probation.

“Typically, when you have probation ... there could be additional training requirements or additional oversight requirements or some sort of reporting requirements,” Weston said. “All sorts of things could be a result of that.”

State investigators alleged Oakmont Senior Living staff abandoned nearly 100 residents at Varenna and Villa Capri before dawn Oct. 9 as the Tubbs fire advanced toward the neighboring care homes, located in a hilly section of northeast Santa Rosa.

The legal action contends the facilities’ management and staff violated numerous state codes designed to protect residents during emergencies. It also accused Oakmont officials of making false statements that exaggerated the role played by the company’s staff during the evacuations.

None died the night of the wildfires. Varenna survived the firestorm, but Villa Capri burned to the ground and is now being rebuilt. More than 20 residents would have perished in the facility had family members, friends and first responders not intervened, investigators found.

Oakmont Senior Living officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday. In a statement Thursday, the company said it would be “fully transparent and responsive” to resolve what it characterized as unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations. The company said it voluntarily started evacuations after it was “repeatedly unable to reach emergency authorities on clogged 911 phone lines.”

“Our residents and their safety have been, and always will be, our first priority,” the statement said.

Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said Oakmont faces extreme and unusual consequences. She noted the state is also seeking to strip certifications from two company administrators who oversaw Villa Capri and Varenna — and impose lifetime bans preventing them from ever again working for an assisted living facility licensed by the state.

“It’s not normal. Nothing about this is normal,” McGinnis said. “You have to have extraordinary circumstances for them to actually pull a license for the facility and also to ban the administrators from ever operating an (assisted living facility) again.”

McGinnis, who started the organization she leads 35 years ago, called the Villa Capri and Varenna case the “worst case of abandonment and neglect of residents” she’d ever seen. The only recent parallel she could point to was a high-profile 2013 incident where residents were abandoned at a Castro Valley assisted living facility. Less than 20 residents were involved.

McGinnis described the state’s complaint — which she read closely — as “very well thought out.” She couldn’t estimate Oakmont’s chances of success on an appeal, but considers it unlikely that Varenna, which has reopened, will be shut down permanently.

“Whether it’s gonna be a temporary manager, whether they’re gonna be forced to sell to somebody else, where they win their appeal, for example,” she said, “I doubt very much the residents will be forced to leave. That’s a concern of everybody, obviously.”

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Julie Combs said she was troubled by the state’s action, especially as she and her colleagues may later consider plans from Oakmont Senior Living to build another senior care facility in Fountaingrove.

“It’s concerning when the state wants to revoke a license,” Combs said. “I’m finding it hard to imagine a path forward for new construction of senior facilities in a high fire hazard area, particularly for an entity that may not be able to maintain a license on a facility because of safety issues.”

Combs said she had not precluded voting for the project, however, and would remain open to all sides.

The city’s Design Review Board approved the proposed Oakmont Senior Living project, called Emerald Isle, in March, but it was appealed to the City Council. The council was supposed to consider the appeal in July, but the company asked to reschedule and a new date hasn’t been set, a city planner said Friday.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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