Broken plumbing, sewage backup and rat infestation force closure of Santa Rosa senior care home

That team included employees from the provincial environmental health department, Santa Rosa Code Enforcement, the Santa Rosa Fire Department, and licensing officials from the State Department of Social Services, which oversees assisted living centers.

County and city officials interviewed plumbing company personnel who did work at the site, as well as facility personnel. They were told the site had “been without running water since 5/28/21 due to broken sewers and sewers under the building,” according to a June 15 letter from the provincial environmental health department to property owners.

According to the document:

* Plumbing staff reported raw sewage, sewage air, and sewage flies under the front house area where the on-site staff lived.

* There were traces of rats under the buildings and travel in the HVAC system under the house.

* A portable shower trolley in the driveway was not accessible to residents with disabilities.

* All toilets in the facility had in-bag litter bins with bagged kitty litter for residents and staff as replacement toilets.

* Running water was not available for the toilets, showers, laundry room and in the bathroom sinks and sinks in the kitchen.

* Rat droppings and rat noises were observed, along with rubbish and rubbish piled up in a shed where food was stored.

Conditions in the house were so clearly inconsistent with health and safety standards that authorities had to vacate all residents and staff.

Jesse Oswald, head of the Santa Rosa building, said action was taken quickly and was prioritized as the case involved a retirement home, often housing one of the most vulnerable local residents.

Many of the residents of the Burbank Avenue facility have cognitive problems such as dementia, Barnett Nelson said.

“The health and safety of our citizens is truly our number one mission, and when we hear concerns about an immediate health and/or life safety issue, our goal is to respond as quickly as possible,” Oswald said.

Health and Safety Violations at Redwood Senior Living.pdf

No notice to newcomers

Santa Rosa resident Margaret Buhn and her sister moved their father into the facility on June 1, four days after the water was turned off. She said they were never told there was a problem with the sewage system.

James Buhn, 87, a retired chemistry and physics teacher at Rancho Cotate High School, had previously been in a local independent housing facility but needed more care as he began to show signs of dementia, Margaret Buhn said.

Redwood Senior Living offered assisted living at a more reasonable price of $4,500 a month, compared to $6,000 a month in other places, she said.

Buhn said she and her sister had no idea there were problems at the facility until they received a call on June 9 from Sonoma County Adult Protective Services informing them that their father had been evacuated to a local motel room.

“It’s amazing, you don’t think people would do something like that,” she said, referring to the use of cat litter at the facility. “Why weren’t we told about the conditions in the facility, or at least that there was no running water?”

Barbato said the use of trash cans and cat litter had been recommended by “multiple sources” as a temporary solution, including a website showing how it can be used as part of a portable bathroom during emergencies. He said he was doing his best to inform relatives that the water had been shut off.

“Every resident, whether they exist or consider the community, was made aware of the situation,” Barbato said in an email.

Along with several other residents of the facility, James Buhn was taken to a local motel for a few days before being transferred to Arbol Residences, a senior citizen community in northeast Santa Rosa.

The experience has apparently taken a toll on her father, Margaret Buhn said.

He had to be hospitalized on Tuesday after becoming faint and dizzy. He was initially taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where staff said he was dehydrated and had impaired liver function, she said.

“That means he hasn’t been getting enough to drink for a while, which is terrible,” Buhn said. He was later admitted to Petaluma Valley Hospital because there was no room at Memorial, she added.

In Petaluma Valley, staff were able to rehydrate the former teacher and improve his kidney function. Buhn said her father had “not had a bowel movement in over three weeks and they have fixed that as well.”

She said he is expected to be discharged Friday afternoon and transferred to a local rehabilitation center.

Plagued by pandemic

Redwood Senior Living is one of 163 assisted living and board and lodging facilities in Sonoma County. These homes have a total of 3,969 beds.

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