Families of Santa Rosa senior home residents welcome state crackdown on fire response
Relatives of residents at a Santa Rosa senior care home accused of abandoning dozens of its elderly and infirm clients during the October firestorm expressed relief the state was taking steps to hold the owners accountable, saying staff members had failed to protect loved ones who endured harrowing escapes from the flames.
Several family members of Oakmont of Varenna residents said they hoped the state’s move to revoke licenses held by Windsor-based Oakmont Senior Living and two of its top administrators would result in sanctions requiring significant improvements but allow their loved ones to remain in their Fountaingrove homes.
“I’m just so happy this has happened — that something has happened, that they’re held accountable,” said Lynn Galeazzi Devris, whose 96-year-old father still lives at Varenna and was among those left behind, according to her. “I’m so thankful my father didn’t die that night. I’m just so thankful to God. And I’m glad something is finally coming of this.”
Varenna was one of four Oakmont Senior Living facilities menaced by the Tubbs fire that destroyed more than 1,400 Fountaingrove homes early Oct. 9. Three of the sites, including Varenna, survived the fire. Oakmont of Villa Capri, a smaller, high-end, 72-bed assisted-living and memory-care facility adjacent to Varenna, was destroyed. No residents of the four facilities died in the fires.
But within days, family members of residents at Villa Capri and Varenna began coming forward with disturbing allegations that their loved ones — totaling more 100 individuals, based on court filings and state records — were abandoned by Oakmont Senior Living staff and stranded in the facilities as the Tubbs fire advanced.
An investigation launched by the state Department of Social Services determined more than 20 residents would have died when Villa Capri burned to the ground had relatives, friends and first responders not raced to the site and taken them to safety, according to a complaint filed by the state Thursday. State regulators faulted staff at Varenna for violating state laws and abandoning about 80 people there without power, working elevators or means to escape.
State regulators recommended that operating licenses for the two facilities be revoked and that two top Oakmont Senior Living administrators who oversaw the facilities be prevented from ever again working for a California-licensed assisted living home.
Galeazzi Devris said she and her sisters are still haunted by the knowledge that their father, who uses a cane to walk, was forced to contemplate his own death as he watched the fires approach. There were no working phones to contact his family. He was among those eventually rescued on city buses.
“Honestly that’s why he was there, so you don’t have to worry about him,” Galeazzi Devris said. “You worry about other things like him getting sick or falling or having a heart attack, but you don’t worry about him not escaping, not getting away from that kind of danger.”
Family members of Varenna residents contacted over the past two days praised the state’s investigation and initiative to ensure the safety of elders in state-licensed facilities.
The license revocation hearings could result in a range of outcomes that would allow the pair of independent living and assisted care complexes to remain open, an option that would avoid uprooting elderly and frail people in the last years of their lives. Villa Capri has a total capacity of 80 residents and Varenna is licensed for up to 322, according to the state.