BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — Fire and safety officials can’t say when Twin Oaks Care and Rehabilitation Center at 93 Locust St. will reopen after a sewer backup caused the evacuation of all 94 residents on Sunday.
In all, 93 residents, some of whom were elderly and frail, including some with tracheostomy or feeding tubes, were transported safely by Lyons and LifeLine ambulance services to seven facilities in Danvers, Andover, North Andover, Reading and Wakefield, fire Chief Kevin Farrell said. One resident of the facility was driven by a family member.
“In the 27 years I’ve been involved in public safety, I have never been involved in the evacuation of a nursing home,” Farrell said.
“Everyone responded and were appropriate and timely,” said Gary DiPietro, the facility’s administrator for seven years. “I can’t say enough for the collaborative effort that happened yesterday.” He praised the fire chief’s response as “fantastic.”
DiPietro could not give a time frame as to when the facility might be open again as officials investigate what happened.
Yesterday morning, the facility, which is owned and operated by Kennett Square, Pa.-based Genesis HealthCare, was a hub of activity, with two Lynch Construction vehicles, a backhoe and five Action Emergency trucks jamming the facility’s parking lot. A ServiceMaster employee was inside cleaning surfaces in a hallway.
Just before noon, according to police, nursing home officials notified the town that there was water on the first floor of the facility. Residents from that floor were brought upstairs while the facility tried to deal with the problem in-house. When the severity of the problem became apparent, DiPietro summoned help from the town and from his corporate office.
All along, the safety of residents was paramount, DiPietro said.
“Their well-being was our priority,” he said.
The evacuation began later that afternoon and was completed by 8 p.m.
“It really went off without a glitch,” DiPietro said.
Sister facilities and some local ones took in Twin Oaks’ residents. Farrell said they were taken to Hunt Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Cedar Glen Care and Rehabilitation Center, and Radius HealthCare Center, all in Danvers; Academy Manor in Andover; Sutton Hill Center in North Andover; Meadow View Care and Rehabilitation Center in North Reading; and Wakefield Care and Rehabilitation Center in Wakefield.
Farrell said he first learned of the flooding early Sunday afternoon when the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency called him. The center had already notified the town of a sewer problem, and the town’s sewer department was notified about 12:30 p.m. By that time, a private plumbing contractor had attempted to fix what was thought to be a plugged sewer line. Town sewer workers removed the manhole covers on Locust Street and did not find a sewage surge in the pipes, so it was determined that the issue involved the private line on Twin Oaks’ property. Another attempt to unblock the line proved unsuccessful, Farrell said.
When Farrell arrived, he saw at least an inch of gray water on the first floor, and residents had already been evacuated upstairs.
By 3 p.m., Farrell requested the assistance of the town’s vacuum truck to try to remedy the problem and to avoid having to evacuate residents. That attempt proved unsuccessful as the truck appeared to be pulling up large rocks, indicating that a line probably had broken. Around 4:30 p.m., Farrell ordered the entire building evacuated, given the facility did not have use of its toilets and sinks.
The evacuation at first proved a bit chaotic until a system was put in place to get the residents out to the waiting ambulances or chair cars. Farrell described the scene as orderly, controlled and cooperative among the Fire Department, ambulance services and Twin Oaks staff.
While the evacuation proved difficult for some, everyone tried “to make this transition as easy as possible.”
Fred Votta of Salem, whose 94-year-old mother is a resident of Twin Oaks, said he was satisfied with the way the evacuation was handled.
“They notified me in a timely manner,” said Votta, whose mother has lived at the facility since 2007. He said her care has been phenomenal, and he was glad to receive a follow-up call from the facility where she was taken.
“What gave me peace of mind was Cedar Glen called me,” Votta said.
Building Inspector Richard Maloney said he was not aware of any issues with the Twin Oaks facility other than a kitchen floor settling a few years ago.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.