“It was like living in a M.A.S.H. episode,” said Ron Schaefer, executive director of the Valle Verde Retirement Community . “A row of ambulances. An orange glow in the sky. Ash raining down. Gurneys and wheelchairs everywhere.”
Schaefer was describing the scene in the parking lot of Valle Verde Retirement Community, located at 900 Calle De Los Amigos, on Friday, May 8, during the Jesusita Fire. Within a four-day period, Valle Verde temporarily housed more than 162 senior citizen evacuees, acting as a staging ground to provide beds, meals, and care while other accommodations were made.
Jan Koegler, program administrator for Santa Barbara County Health Department’s (SBPHD) Public Health Emergency Preparedness program, said Schaefer and the Valle Verde staff worked tirelessly and did whatever was necessary to take care of the evacuees. “They were nothing but calm and eager to assist in any way possible throughout the disaster.”
Within a couple hours of the fire starting, SBPHD’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in partnership with the National Long Term Care Ombudsman had decided to evacuate the residents of the senior assisted living facility Wood Glenn Hall located on Foothill Road near East Alamar Avenue. Wood Glen Hall and Valle Verde, both non-profit organizations, have a mutual transfer agreement to take in residents during an emergency. Residents of Wood Glen Hall began arriving mid-afternoon on Tuesday, May 4, in vehicles from the County’s ambulance provider, American Medical Response (AMR).
By the next day, all but 12 of the 60 evacuees had moved to other accommodations. But the staff and residents at Valle Verde had only a short reprieve. Later that day, evacuation became mandatory for Villa Alamar - an assisted living facility for seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias located on East Alamar Avenue near State Street. Although Valle Verde does not have a transfer agreement with Villa Alamar, at the request of EMS, Schaefer agreed to provide shelter, care, and basic needs while more appropriate accommodations for the high-needs elderly evacuees could be found. Valle Verde nursing staff evaluated and performed triage for the patients as best they could without medical records. Eventually, staff from Villa Alamar arrived to help administer aid to their residents.