Se­niors forced to flee find tem­po­rary homes

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WINE COUNTRY FIRES - By Cather­ine Ho Cather­ine Ho is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: cho@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @Cat_Ho

Around 5 Mon­day morn­ing, the emer­gency alarms at Spring Lake Vil­lage, one of Santa Rosa’s largest se­nior liv­ing com­mu­ni­ties, be­gan blar­ing: “This is not a drill.”

For the next two hours, as the Tubbs Fire to the north turned the early-morn­ing skies red, 500 se­niors — about 400 liv­ing in­de­pen­dently, and 100 who de­pend on med­i­cal care — loaded their coats, pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions, dogs and cats into cars, or were helped into am­bu­lances, and headed south to an evac­u­a­tion cen­ter at the Sonoma County fair­grounds.

“I had a sense we were sur­rounded by fire that was grad­u­ally clos­ing in,” said Spring Lake res­i­dent Tom Frye, 79. “The winds were howl­ing. We could see the flames com­ing down the moun­tain . ... It gave me the un­easy feel­ing we were say­ing good­bye.”

Whether Frye will have a home to go back to re­mains to be seen. By Thurs­day morn­ing, the Tubbs Fire was 10 per­cent con­tained, and the Nuns Fire to the south was clos­ing in.

Frye knows he’s one of the lucky ones. He got out in time and, af­ter spend­ing two nights sleep­ing on cots at the fair­grounds, was among 50 Spring Lake res­i­dents re­lo­cated to St. Paul’s se­nior liv­ing com­mu­nity in Oakland’s Lake Mer­ritt neigh­bor­hood Wed­nes­day. Both fa­cil­i­ties are run by Epis­co­pal Se­nior Com­mu­ni­ties, a non­profit that op­er­ates sev­eral se­nior homes in the Bay Area. A spokes­woman said that all res­i­dents are ac­counted for and safe.

“We feel very for­tu­nate,” said Frye’s friend and Spring Lake res­i­dent Bar­ney John­son, 85. “We have our lives.”

“And our cir­cle of friends,” added John­son’s wife, Betty, 85. “That makes a huge dif­fer­ence.”

Spring Lake Vil­lage is one of the largest of the 28 se­nior liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties that have been fully or par­tially evac­u­ated since the North Bay fires be­gan Sun­day, ac­cord­ing to the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion, which is track­ing the re­lo­ca­tions. Many res­i­dents of those homes — who range from peo­ple who live in­de­pen­dently to those who re­quire as­sis­tance to eat, bathe and take med­i­ca­tions — have re­lo­cated, or are be­ing moved, to San Fran­cisco, the East Bay, Con­tra Costa County and Sacra­mento. Many who live in­de­pen­dently are stay­ing with friends and fam­ily in the area as they wait for word on the homes they left be­hind.

John­son and Frye de­scribed the evac­u­a­tion as swift but smooth. The res­i­dents do evac­u­a­tion drills twice a year. But by Wed­nes­day evening, they be­gan re­mem­ber­ing items they wish they’d grabbed in time, like fam­ily pho­tos, a lap­top, a thumb drive.

Across the Bay Area, health or­ga­ni­za­tions and providers of as­sisted liv­ing ser­vices are scram­bling to soften the land­ing for dis­placed se­niors, help­ing to col­lect med­i­cal sup­plies and dispatch vol­un­teers who can rec­og­nize signs of de­men­tia or Alzheimer’s dis­ease among the thou­sands of North Bay res­i­dents who have made their way to shel­ters set up in re­sponse to the Wine Coun­try fires.

Med­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions are con­tin­u­ing to co­or­di­nate vol­un­teer doc­tors and nurses staffing evac­u­a­tion cen­ters to mon­i­tor peo­ple with chronic ill­nesses or mi­nor med­i­cal problems.

The Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion is send­ing staff and vol­un­teers to shel­ters to help work­ers rec­og­nize and care for peo­ple with de­men­tia who may wan­der off or be­come dis­tressed, par­tic­u­larly af­ter be­ing moved abruptly to un­fa­mil­iar lo­ca­tions.

“We’ve heard from a cou­ple shel­ters they have peo­ple who are walk­ing out of the fa­cil­ity that they know are con­fused,” said Claire Day, chief pro­gram of­fi­cer for the as­so­ci­a­tion. “They’ve been try­ing to bring them back into the shel­ter.”

The group is also pulling to­gether in­for­ma­tion to be sent to shel­ters and nurs­ing homes that are now hous­ing those who fled the fires, about how to en­roll peo­ple with de­men­tia or Alzheimer’s in the MedicAlert emer­gency re­sponse sys­tem, which fam­ily mem-

bers can use to track down a miss­ing loved one.

Typ­i­cally, those who have MedicAlert will wear an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion bracelet not­ing their con­di­tion and how to con­tact fam­ily mem­bers. But Day said that merely hav­ing a per­son’s name and de­scrip­tion in the sys­tem can help fam­ily mem­bers lo­cate their loved ones.

“Usu­ally it’s a fam­ily mem­ber that fills out the ap­pli­ca­tion and sends a pic­ture,” she said. “We’re work­ing on de­vel­op­ing a plan to fast-track that, so peo­ple can get en­rolled quickly.”

Home Care As­sis­tance, a San Fran­cisco com­pany that pro­vides as­sisted liv­ing ser­vices for se­niors, has been work­ing to get sup­plies out to as­sisted liv­ing cen­ters that got a sud­den in­flux of new res­i­dents such as Bel­mont Vil­lage of Al­bany, which took in many se­niors evac­u­ated from Santa Rosa’s Oak­mont area.

Jesse Wal­ters, the com­pany’s di­rec­tor of Bay Area op­er­a­tions, said he has not heard about any se­vere short­ages of sup­plies — but he was en route to Tar­get on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon to buy body wash for 100 peo­ple. Home Care As­sis­tance is ac­cept­ing do­nated di­a­pers, un­der­pads, san­i­tary wipes, la­tex med­i­cal gloves, walk­ers, wheel­chairs, canes and other sup­plies for the el­derly or in­firm who have had to evac­u­ate se­nior liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

As the John­sons and Frye sat with friends in­side St. Paul’s on Wed­nes­day night, with half-eaten white choco­late chip cook­ies on pa­per plates be­fore them, they were grate­ful that strangers at the Oakland home have opened up their rooms, with some sleep­ing on couches to of­fer a new, tem­po­rary room­mate their bed.

“I’m able to fo­cus, for the first time, on to­day,” said Betty John­son. “To­mor­row is un­known.”

Those who are try­ing to lo­cate a loved one with de­men­tia or Alzheimer’s can call the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion’s 24hour hot­line at (800) 272-3900 and be di­rected to a list of se­nior liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties that have been evac­u­ated.

Those who wish to do­nate di­a­pers and other sup­plies can visit the web­site for Home Care As­sis­tance or call (650) 462-9501. Mone­tary do­na­tions for this pur­pose can also be made to the Red Cross or Epis­co­pal Se­nior Com­mu­ni­ties.

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