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Avamere residents return to St. Helens after devasatating flood

by: Cecelia Haack, Dave Olsen, who recently moved in; Mara Wolpshin, a visitor; resident Loranne Anderson; and resident Bertha Randolph enjoy the newly redecorated lobby.

Balloons festooned the dining room, where residents, families and friends enjoyed a lovely buffet. Grandchildren held hands with beloved grandparents. There were hugs everywhere.

It is hard to believe that just a few months ago this room was full of floodwater.

At 9 a.m., Dec. 3, 2007, water rushed into the lobby of the facility. A 16-inch stream of cold flood water filled the lobby and swirled down the hall toward residents' rooms. That sent Director Kevin Reed, the management team and care staff into action, moving first-floor residents into the dining room.

Staff built a dam out of linens in the hallway outside the dining room to keep cold muddy water out. Dark water oozed and seeped around the barricade.

At 9:30 a.m. Reed was informed by Columbia River Fire and Rescue personnel that the flood water was contaminated with sewage. All residents, not only those living on the first floor, had to be evacuated out of the facility.

'Our main concern was to keep them safe and well,' said Reed. 'We began calling Avamere sister facilities and families.' Families could pick up their loved ones or they would be relocated to another facility.

Caregivers immediately knew what needed to be done. Every resident had to leave with their medications, care plan and enough belongings to keep them comfortable for several days. Even residents going home with family members needed their medications, medical equipment such as walkers and commodes, clothing and sundries.

'Our care staff stayed calm through all of it,' said Reed. 'They explained what was going to happen to each resident.'

Buses from other Avamere facilities arrived. Residents were loaded with enough of everything to see them through at least three days.

'I don't think anyone thought we'd be out of here for months,' Reed said. 'A few weeks, maybe, but not months.'

The last residents to be evacuated were the residents of the memory care unit. Each resident was assigned a buddy staff member, who took them though the entire process of evacuation.

'We sent stuffed animals with these residents,' said Jenny Hicks, director of community relations. 'Whatever they needed to be comforted we sent with them.'

Five hours after it began the last residents left on Avamere buses en route to safe temporary homes.

All the carpet, trim, furnishings and walls below 3 feet had to be removed and replaced.

Contractors arrived and the first floor renovation began. A huge air scrubber arrived to dehumidify and clean the air in the building. An industrial hygienist swabbed everything in the building, looking for bacteria and virus contamination that could make residents and staff sick. Anywhere there was a problem the items were cleaned and sanitized again.

More than four months after the residents were evacuated they began coming home - home to refurbished rooms, their clothes hanging in their closets, medications in their bathrooms; everything was move-in ready.

Lorraine Anderson was evacuated in December. Saturday she sat in the newly redecorated lobby. 'It's very nice to be back. Just like old home week,' she said. She smiles and gestures to the room, 'Nice, very nice.'

Bertha Randolph nods in agreement. 'Very happy to come back,' she said. 'It's a nice place.'

Anderson and Randolph and the other 53 residents that returned are the reason for all the celebration.