Oakmont Senior Living has launched a website featuring the company’s explanations of how four communities were evacuated during a major wildfire that ravaged northern California last fall. In the aftermath of that disaster, the provider’s emergency response has been criticized in media reports, and the company is also facing a lawsuit brought by former residents.
The Tubbs Fire began on the night of Oct. 8, 2017, in the hills north of Santa Rosa, a community of about 175,000 people located roughly 50 miles north of San Francisco. The blaze quickly moved downhill and ultimately became the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, claiming 44 lives and destroying at least 5,200 homes and other structures.
“The lasting impact of the Tubbs Fire will be felt countywide for years to come … our community will be recovering from this devastating natural disaster for quite some time,” Oakmont Management Group Co-Founder and Advisor Chris Kasulka said in a statement emailed to Senior Housing News.
Oakmont’s corporate headquarters is located near Santa Rosa, in the city of Windsor. The company has planned and developed more than 50 communities on the West Coast, and operates 24 communities in California and one in Nevada. Two of its continuing care retirement community (CCRC) campuses were impacted by the Tubbs Fire. One of these campuses encompassed Fountaingrove Lodge and its affiliated memory care community, The Terraces. The other campus included Oakmont of Varenna and its associated memory care and long-term assistance community, Villa Capri.
These locations all had to be evacuated. Fountaingrove Lodge, The Terraces and Oakmont of Varenna sustained damage; Villa Capri burned down.
In the days and weeks following the fire, local news outlets began running articles critical of how the evacuations unfolded. Some former residents, represented by attorney Kathryn Stebner, went on to file a lawsuit against Oakmont. A trial is scheduled to begin next month.
Stebner did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Now, Oakmont has chosen to present more information to the public through the new website, which includes the company’s explanations of how the evacuation proceeded at each location; responses to certain questions and concerns raised by media reports; positive testimonials from residents and family members; and a description of steps the company has taken to support residents and the larger community in the fire’s aftermath.
News reports have raised the question of whether Oakmont had an emergency plan in place prior to the fire, and if so, whether it was adequate. Such a plan was in place and was developed in accordance with recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross and other organizations, according to information on Oakmont’s website. The site also notes that a Disaster Planning Task Force met monthly at Villa Capri throughout 2017.
More than 400 residents were evacuated from the four Oakmont buildings and there were no fatalities, Oakmont’s Chief Marketing Officer Crystal Robinson told Senior Housing News.
In the months since the fire, Oakmont has been taking stock of lessons learned. Now, it is taking steps to share these lessons with the broader industry in a variety of ways, Robinson said, such as by speaking about emergency preparation at conferences and by working with the California Assisted Living Association (CALA) on a bill to update emergency prep and training standards for residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFE).
Lessons learned include identifying appropriate evacuation sites and forging strong ties with other senior living providers, which can provide assistance and alternative housing for residents displaced by a disaster.
Oakmont also has worked with other senior living providers to help former Villa Capri employees find new jobs, given that this building was destroyed in the fire, according to the website. Two job fairs have been organized with this in mind, and departing employees received a payment to “ease the transition” while the sought new jobs, the site states.
As for maintaining day-to-day operations across its whole portfolio, Oakmont is fortunate that its corporate offices were spared in the fire, Robinson said.
However, several employees at the corporate level did lose their homes. They are among those to receive financial support from the company, which has also offered grief counseling and a support hotline open around the clock, the website states.
In terms of current morale, going through the disaster has brought Oakmont’s team members “closer together,” according to Kasulka.
“We will remain committed to resident-centered care in the years to come and appreciate the many team members who exemplified Oakmont’s values during the Tubbs Fire,” she said in her statement to SHN.
Despite the fire, Oakmont has not scaled back on its new development pipeline, a company spokesman told SHN.
Occupancy has also not eroded in the months since the fire, with even the Varenna community back open and fully occupied, Robinson noted.
But while Oakmont appears to be on a firm business footing to move forward, the effects of the disaster are still being felt and processed, she added.
“The fire has never left us,” she said.
Written by Tim Mullaney