Legislature passes bill inspired by abandoned seniors during 2017 wildfires
A bill that would punish caregivers who abandon residents of senior homes during wildfires and other emergencies received final approval Monday from the Legislature, placing the proposal on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
SB 314, which was approved unanimously Monday by the state Assembly, was fueled by the abandonment of residents at two Santa Rosa senior homes during the October 2017 wildfires.
“Deserting the frail and elderly when disaster strikes is not acceptable and can’t be allowed to happen again,” the bill’s author, state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, said in a statement Monday. “These vulnerable people must be protected, especially with the growing wildfire threat. My bill penalizes caretakers who shirk their responsibilities and encourages more people to do the right thing.”
If signed by Newsom, the bill would add “abandonment” to California’s civil elder abuse laws, expanding on the existing legal liability — civil and criminal — faced by those who hurt or allow harm to befall elderly dependents.
The bill previously cleared the Senate on a unanimous vote, and the governor has 12 days to either approve the bill or reject it. Dodd said there was a good chance Newsom would sign the bill.
“I never take anything for granted, but I really like our chances. This is a common sense bill to protect our most vulnerable residents,” he said
When Dodd introduced the bill earlier this year, he singled out the conduct of staff at two care homes — Oakmont of Villa Capri and Oakmont of Varenna — operated in Fountaingrove by Oakmont Senior Living.
State investigators determined staff members left about 100 elderly residents during the 2017 wildfires as flames burned into Santa Rosa, destroying Villa Capri. Dodd’s office said Monday that at least 20 residents of Villa Capri would have died had family members not arrived to rescue them before the facility burned to the ground. Beth Steffy, whose mother, Alice Eurotas, 85, was among those left behind at the Villa Capri, said she was thankful Dodd was shepherding the bill.
“As a family member of someone who was left behind during the Tubbs fire, I believe we can’t adopt this protection soon enough,” Steffy said in a statement released by Dodd’s office.
Statewide, there are about 150,000 California elders residing in assisted living facilities, according to Dodd’s office. Many are too sick or frail to protect themselves during disasters.
In Sonoma County there are about 3,835 assisted living beds, with occupancy usually above 80% at any given time, according to Petaluma-based Senior Advocacy Services, which runs the long-term care ombudsman program.