That team included staff from the county environmental health division, Santa Rosa code enforcement, Santa Rosa Fire Department and licensing officials from the state Department of Social Services, which oversees assisted living centers.
County and city officials interviewed staff from a plumbing company that was doing work at the site, as well as facility staff. They were told that the site “had been without running water since 5/28/21 due to broken waste plumbing and sewage under the building,” according to a June 15 letter from the county environmental health department to property owners.
According to the document:
* Plumbing staff reported raw sewage, sewage odors and sewer flies under the front house area where the onsite staff were living.
* There was evidence of rats under the buildings and traveling inside the HVAC system under the house.
* A portable shower trailer in the driveway was not accessible to residents with disabilities.
* All the toilets in the facility had trash can liners in the toilet bowls with kitty litter inside the bag for residents and staff as replacement restrooms.
* Running water was not available for the toilets, showers, laundry and in the bathroom hand sinks and kitchen sinks.
* Rat feces and rat noises were observed along with garbage and junk piled in a shed storing food.
The conditions inside the home were so clearly in violation of health and safety standards that authorities ordered all residents and staff off the property.
Jesse Oswald, Santa Rosa’s chief building official, said action was taken quickly and given priority because the case involved a senior care home, which often house among the most vulnerable local residents.
Many of the residents at the Burbank Avenue facility have cognitive issues such as dementia, Barnett Nelson said.
“The health and safety of our citizens is really our foremost mission, and when we hear concerns voiced of an immediate health and/or life safety issue, our goal is to respond as quickly as possible,” Oswald said.
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 had been shut off. She said they were never told there was a plumbing issue.
James Buhn, 87, a retired Rancho Cotate High School chemistry and physics teacher, was previously at a local independent living facility but required more care because he was beginning 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 at other places, she said.
Buhn said she and her sister had no idea there were problems at the facility until they received a call from Sonoma County Adult Protective Services on June 9 informing them that their father had been evacuated to a local motel room.
“It’s mind blowing, you don’t think that people would do stuff like that,” she said, referring to the use of cat litter at the facility. “Why weren’t we told about the conditions at the facility, or at least that there was no running water?”
Barbato said the use of trash can liners and cat litter had been recommended as a temporary solution by “multiple sources,” including a website that shows how it can be used as part of a portable bathroom during emergencies. He said he did his best to notify family members that the water had been shut off.
“Every resident, whether they were existing or considering the community, were notified of the situation,” Barbato said in an email.
Along with several other residents at the facility, James Buhn was taken for a few days to a local motel before being transferred to Arbol Residences, a senior community in northeast Santa Rosa.
The experience has apparently taken a toll on her father, Margaret Buhn said.
He had to be hospitalized Tuesday after becoming faint and dizzy. He was initially taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where staff said he was dehydrated and had lowered liver function, she said.
“That means he’s really not 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.
At Petaluma Valley, staff were able to rehydrate the former teacher and improve his kidney function. Buhn said her father “hadn’t had a bowel movement in over three weeks and they fixed that as well.”
She said he is expected to be discharged Friday afternoon and moved to a local rehabilitation facility.
Pummeled by pandemic
Redwood Senior Living is one of 163 residential care facilties offering assisted living and board and care services in Sonoma County. Altogether, those homes have 3,969 beds.