Four former employees and a current employee of Oakmont Senior Living are suing the Windsor, CA-based operator, saying they “sustained severe injuries” to their personal and professional reputations due to the company’s actions after an October 2017 wildfire that destroyed one community and damaged another.
Former caregivers Maria Joffely Cervantes, Anett Rivas and Ma Teresa Martinez; former maintenance worker Michael Rodriguez; and current maintenance worker Andre Blakely filed their lawsuit on Tuesday. All of the employees work or worked at retirement community Varenna at Fountaingrove except Rivas, who worked at Villa Capri, an assisted living and memory care community that burned down in the fire.
Both communities are in Santa Rosa, CA. The complaint also includes Martinez’s husband, Sigmund. Blakely was placed on paid administrative leave on Thursday, according to The Press Democrat.
A spokeswoman for Oakmont Senior Living told McKnight’s Senior Living that the operator had no comment at this time.
A case management conference has been scheduled for Aug. 1.
In addition to Oakmont Senior Living, Oakmont Management Group and the two communities, also named as defendants in the 39-page complaint are the two communities’ executive directors.
According to the lawsuit, “During the investigation by [the California Department of Social Services] concerning the evacuation of Varenna and Villa Capri, defendants, acting in concert, intentionally published false statements to DSS that defendants knew to be false and that were repeated publicly by defendants, DSS and the media, wrongfully blaming Varenna and Villa Capri staff, including plaintiffs … for failing to evacuate residents and leaving residents behind during the Tubbs fire.”
Specifically, the complaint said that the defendants “falsely placed blame on plaintiffs and stated that plaintiffs did not notify all residents of an emergency evacuation and did not evacuate all residents prior to departing Varenna and Villa Capri, that as a result of staff leaving Varenna and Villa Capri, residents were left unattended, and no staff remained to provide direction or care and supervision or to assume oversight of the facilities.”
Two former Varenna at Fountaingrove residents, Joan Coke and Helen Straessel, also are part of the lawsuit. They accuse the operator of negligence and elder abuse for providing inadequate care during and after the fire.
In addition to libel, slander, negiglence and elder abuse, the lawsuit makes claims of violation of whistleblower protections, fraud, breach of contract, false imprisonment, racial discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conversion.
The state Department of Social Services originally had petitioned to remove the licenses from the Varenna and Villa Capri communities, along with the licenses for the sites’ executive directors, but Oakmont and the state reached a settlement related to the evacuation late last year.
Under the agreement, Varenna and Villa Capri were permitted to stay open for the next two years under strict supervision and compliance with regulations. Oakmont had 60 days to submit updated emergency disaster plans for the communities and agreed to ensure that there are enough staff members overnight and to conduct annual evacuation drills. The executive directors also agreed to undergo at least 40 hours of training from local emergency services providers.
Villa Capri is being rebuilt and is expected to reopen later this year.