Oakmont Senior Living is under media scrutiny for how it handled the evacuation of a community last week during the devastating wildfires in Northern California.
A family-owned and operated business, Oakmont has planned and developed more than 40 senior living communities in the western United States. It is based in Windsor, California—near the city of Santa Rosa, which was among the locations hardest hit by fires last week.
Several Oakmont properties had to be evacuated, including Varenna Oakmont, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Santa Rosa. In reports from a local ABC station as well as Buzzfeed News, Varenna workers and residents have told stories of a harrowing process in the early morning hours of Monday, Oct. 9, in which some people say they were desperately scrambling for safety as the fire engulfed the property.
Oakmont says that the evacuation was proceeding smoothly, with workers transporting residents off the premises in cars and buses, until staff were prevented from returning to the property.
“While its staff was in the process of assisting residents into cars and buses and shuttling them from the community to a designated location … emergency authorities at multiple locations refused to let staff reenter the area because of the fire danger and indicated they would take responsibility for evacuating remaining residents,” the company said in a statement emailed to Senior Housing News. “Oakmont said that it was aware of at least one city bus en route to the community and that its staff remained in communication with authorities to ensure all residents were safe. It has been confirmed that the final residents were evacuated by Oakmont personnel.”
A Santa Rosa Police Department spokeswoman told Buzzfeed News that roadblocks would not have been up while the community was being evacuated, given that there was widespread confusion and chaos in the city at that time.
Currently, all evacuated residents are “accounted for, safe, and settling into new living arrangments,” Oakmont has stated. Varenna sustained damage that is being assessed before a timeline can be established for reopening. Two other communities are on track to reopen within three to five weeks, while the Oakmont of Villa Capri location was destroyed by the fire; the company anticipates it could take 18 months to rebuild.
The readiness and responsiveness of senior housing and care providers has been an ongoing concern as a rash of natural disasters have struck the United States in 2017.
Other incidents include a photograph that went viral after Hurricane Harvey, showing assisted living residents in waist-deep flood water; an incident involving a memory care resident left behind during the evacuation of a Vitality Senior Living building during Harvey; and the Florida skilled nursing facility that was without power following Hurricane Irma, leading to conditions that have claimed 14 lives.
Written by Tim Mullaney