Wildfires sweeping across Northern California have led to mass evacuations, with seniors among more than 20,000 people who fled their homes—thousands of which have been destroyed.
It’s likely that some of these displaced older adults will now decide to live in a senior housing community, either on a temporary or permanent basis. Sunshine Retirement Living is seeking to make this easier by waiving community fees for incoming residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the fires. Based in Bend, Oregon, Sunshine manages 21 senior living communities in nine states.
The community fee waiver applies to three independent living communities in Northern California and one in Southern California that have the space to accommodate new residents. Typically, the community fees are one-time charges of between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the location of the property and other factors, Sunshine’s National Director of Sales and Relationship Development Stephen Eatman told Senior Housing News.
Sunshine is open to making other accommodations for people affected by the wildfires.
“We’ve gone to all the elder care advisors [such as A Place for Mom and Caring.com] and told them if there are special situations that come up that we can help with, outside of what we’re doing, to let us know,” Eatman said.
Sunshine offered a similar discount following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last month. More than 10 people moved into Sunshine communities in the aftermath of those storms, according to Eatman. Most of them had lost their homes in the flooding, and their children then wanted them to move somewhere closer.
As for any potential critics who might see Sunshine’s move as a business tactic that takes advantage of a crisis to boost occupancy, Eatman said the company is simply trying to help people in need and that he hopes any provider would consider doing the same.
Seniors at risk
While the fires continued on Wednesday, Sunshine did not anticipate that any of its communities would be in danger. Not every senior living provider in the state has been so lucky.
Oakmont Senior Living is based in Windsor, close to the hard-hit city of Santa Rosa. Four Oakmont communities in Santa Rosa were evacuated. One of those buildings—Oakmont of Villa Capri—was destroyed, the company announced on its website.
Some residents of the affected properties are with family and friends. Others were evacuated to an Oakmont location in Montecito or a Belmont Village location in Albany.
On Tuesday night, the largest veterans nursing home in the state partially evacuated, with 137 residents relocated to 24 skilled nursing centers elsewhere in California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. About 700 residents remained sheltering in place at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville.
The total death toll from the fires had reached 21 as of Wednesday afternoon and more than 500 people had been reported missing in Sonoma County, CNN reported. Several of those who died were elderly, including a 100-year-old man and his 99-year-old wife.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that many of the fallen represent our most vulnerable, in some cases senior citizens who simply were not able to escape the flames that overcame their homes,” said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Meanwhile, firefighters braced for strong winds that were predicted to fan the flames on Wednesday.
Written by Tim Mullaney