Attorney says understaffing at Oakmont Senior Living may have played a role in evacuation

Byby Melanie Woodrow KGO logo
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Attorney says understaffing at Oakmont Senior Living may have played a role in evacuation
Another family has come forward questioning whether Varenna Oakmont Senior Living had an evacuation plan in place. ABC7 News first broke the story Thursday.

NAPA, Calif. (KGO) -- An attorney is looking into whether understaffing played a role in the evacuation at Oakmont Senior Living in Santa Rosa. The Department of Social Services has two open investigations into the evacuations from Varenna at Fountaingrove (also known as the main building) and Villa Capri.

RELATED: Seniors may have been left at burning Oakmont living center

Attorney Kathryn Stebner filed a lawsuit last month, prior to the fire, claiming Oakmont Senior Living is understaffed. One of the four named plaintiffs was a resident at Villa Capri, which burned down last Monday.

A Santa Rosa Firefighter shared new video with ABC7 News taken around 4:30am last Monday as he and other firefighters drove to Oakmont Senior Living.

"Look what's happening," said one firefighter.

"Varenna should be straight across the street," said another.

Kathy Allen, whose mother-in-law is a Villa Capri resident was still rescuing people.

"I didn't know how we were going to get everyone out of there," said Allen

Villa Capri later burned to the ground.

Stebner's claim is a proposed class action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges Oakmont dupes residents and family members by assessing residents' caregiving needs and charging them and their families accordingly, but not adjusting staff levels to meet those needs.

RELATED: Family, employee who helped evacuate assisted living facility question if fire evacuation plan existed

According to the lawsuit, "Former Oakmont employees and current and former residents confirm that there are seldom enough staff in each facility to meet residents' needs."

Families ABC7 News talked to are not named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but Stebner says are possible members of the class.

"I saw your report and .. I wasn't super surprised," said Stebner.

"We were paying good money, real good money," said Allen.

Allen estimates more than 9-thousand dollars a month for her mother-in-law who has dementia.

She says when she arrived at Villa Capri the morning of the fire there were 3 caregivers on site.

Maintenance worker Andre Blakely helped rescue people from the Varenna main building. He estimates at least half of Oakmont's 430 residents stay there.

"I think that we did a wonderful job because you got to realize for all those residents there was just 4 of us," said Blakely.

VIDEO: Varenna Oakmont Senior Living Community resident describes terrifying 'inferno' and confusing evacuation

Katheryn Mann says she was told to stay in her room as flames approached the Varenna Oakmont Senior Living Community.

"Probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my life," said 86-year-old Katheryn Mann who was in the Varenna main building. Her granddaughter sent a Santa Rosa Firefighter she knew to rescue her grandmother.

One family shared an email Oakmont Senior Living co-owner Cindy Gallaher sent to families yesterday. In it she writes, "My own mother was living at Villa Capri. She told me a few days afterwards that she was comforted and impressed by how calmly and smoothly the evacuation was there."

Oakmont Senior Living credits the evacuation to staff, neighbors, residents' families and authorities who "worked together."

"All 430 of our residents are accounted for, safe... Their safety always has been -- and always will be -- our first priority," said Oakmont Senior Living in a statement to ABC7 News.

Stebner says her firm is bringing these cases for reform.

"I'm really saddened by this happening but especially with your reporting I'm hoping it's a wakeup call," said Stebner.

Neither Oakmont Senior Living nor its attorneys have responded to our requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Oakmont Senior Living has not yet provided a formal response to the legal complaint but has filed a motion to move the case to federal court, citing some members of the potential class have moved out of state.

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