Assisted-living center leaves resident behind during evacuation

Vitality Court president and CEO, Chris Guay, speaks with senior home volunteer, Betty Mowdy, left, resident Llyn Daniels and Enchantment Coordinator Caryl Todd.

A Victoria senior living facility is taking a hard look at its disaster training after leaving a resident behind during Hurricane Harvey.

Vitality Court started planning to move its residents Aug. 24 when the city issued its evacuation order for the rapidly intensifying storm.

This left less than 24 hours for nursing homes and senior living facility staff scrambling to arrange evacuations.

Chris Guay, founder and president of Vitality Senior Living, said this included gathering medical records, medications and personal belongings for more than 80 residents.

Two buses arrived that Friday afternoon, Aug. 25, to move more than 60 residents while other residents went into the care of their families.

Residents loaded onto two buses. One bus went to a hotel in San Antonio, and the other went to a facility near Austin equipped to care for patients with dementia.

But someone was missing.

Vitality Court staff realized one of their residents was not on the bus and at 3:40 p.m. Aug. 25 made a call to Victoria law enforcement and the resident's family.

An elderly woman, a resident of Vitality Court's memory care unit, was found in her room by a community volunteer who stayed there until police arrived.

The woman was taken to a Victoria hospital and released back into Vitality Court's care joining the rest of the memory care patients at the facility in Cedar Park.

Guay said the woman, who was unharmed, is still a resident at Vitality Court and staff has since spoken to her family several times.

State regulators began investigating the facility after an Aug. 28 complaint that a resident was left behind.

Christine Mann, press officer for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the most recent inspection report and complaint cannot be released until the report is finalized.

The Dallas Morning News obtained almost 50 complaints filed with state regulators of more than two dozen nursing homes and assisted-living centers affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The newspaper's investigation, which published Monday, revealed tales of abuse and poor planning for a disaster like Harvey.

The Dallas Morning News shared the complaint with the Victoria Advocate.

In the document, the caller reported that the resident was frightened and locked alone in her room until police arrived.

The state said these complaints were released in error and confirmed that Vitality Court is submitting a plan of correction.

There are challenges whether facilities choose to shelter in place or evacuate and that decision lies with the operators of the centers.

"Facilities are responsible for keeping the residents they serve safe from harm and that means evacuating, if necessary, in a timely manner," Mann said.

Providers are required to keep an up-to-date emergency preparedness plan and ensure personnel knows what their responsibilities are during an emergency.

Guay said the state has accepted the facility's plan of correction and that since Harvey, the staff has undergone additional training.

The facility, formerly known as Brightwater Senior Living at 1303 John Stockbauer Drive, was purchased in December by Vitality Senior Living.

Administrators of the new company said this was something they never want to happen again.

"We're going to make sure we go through those procedures at least semi-annually if not more," he said.

Guay said much of the company's disaster training focused on fires, but moving forward, they will have drills focused on natural disasters.

"This incident we learned a lot, but it also reinforces the fact that we've got to make sure we train our teams as much as we can," he said.

Guay said the facility will also improve its counting system and make sure they are double-checking.

Despite the incident, Guay said there was some good.

The company put up about 20 employees in the San Antonio hotel to stay with residents who evacuated.

"We really tried to keep their life as normal as possible," he said.

Staff took residents to the zoo, church and on other fun outings until they returned to Victoria on Sept. 2.

The residents and employees were safe at the Cedar Park facility designed for dementia patients.

Guay said that while he can't take back the human error that occurred, he's proud of how hard his team has worked since the storm.

"I've got an amazing group of human beings that really care about their residents," he said.

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Features Editor

Laura has covered health and nonprofits in the Crossroads since 2014. She's also mom to a toddler, loves journalism conferences and is a big fan of sci-fi and crime TV.

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