Seniors’ home will get backup power

CEO of Cambridge Estates says company is buying generator

Published on January 8, 2014

Cambridge Estates will never be in the dark again now that the owner of the personal-care home has reflected on its backup plan.

Simon Nyilassy, president and chief executive officer of Regal Lifestyle Communities — owner of Cambridge Estates in St. John’s — told The Telegram Tuesday evening a generator will be purchased for the facility.

“We’re going to put a generator in the home,” he said.

“We’ve been talking about it over the past couple of days and we won’t be waiting for it to be legislated. We’re going to tell the residents and their families they will have one,” Nyilassy said.

Cambridge Estates and its owner came under fire from family members and municipal leaders after staff evacuated seniors from the home Saturday to a local hotel during a blackout.

“Our primary consideration, which is why we had an evacuation plan and we did what we did, was the safety and warmth of the residents and keeping them fed,” Nyilassy told The Telegram earlier in the day.

“We were able to do that with our existing plan, but we’ve had a real live situation to evaluate it, and if we could do it better. And if a generator is part of that then we need to look at that seriously, which we are,” Nyilassy said.

St. John’s Coun. Bernard Davis is calling on all personal-care homes and seniors’ homes to ensure their residents are looked after in the case of a power outage like the one the province experienced during the weekend and into Monday.

He said it’s not good enough for companies to say they are looking at possibly getting backup power for their homes.

Davis said he spoke to Gary Harper, vice-president of operations for Regal, and he felt as though Harper was downplaying the situation.

“He said he didn’t know why it is such a big issue. I said it’s a big issue because you dropped the ball. If you focus on profit only and you’re not focused on providing the best service, then this is what happens,” Davis told The Telegram Tuesday.

“They knew they didn’t have a backup generator and it’s on their list. I said if it’s the last breath I take, it’s going to be the assurance of the residents that are there they will be protected and a generator will be put in place,” he said.

Davis said similarly, Kelly’s Brook Apartments on Empire Avenue in St. John’s had issues with a lack of power and freezing pipes causing poor living conditions for the seniors.

He said he’s been contacted by residents who say repairs are still not done and they can’t do laundry, and won’t speak out because they are afraid they might lose their apartments.

“The restoration company is doing some work, yes, but it goes right back to the same initial problem: (companies) need to maintain a certain level of heat so that pipes don’t  break,” said Davis.

Jane Morgan of Newport Holdings, which owns Kelly’s Brook, said it’s going to take about a week to restore the apartments that were damaged by water when the sprinkler system broke.

“The restoration team came in took some water out of the carpets. Sprinklers were fixed and the insurance will take care of it. It wasn’t really a big deal,” she said Tuesday afternoon.

“It is certainly an inconvenience for them. I feel for them, but this is an apartment building, not a nursing home, so my tenants are independent and they come and go as they please,” Morgan said.

Davis went so far as to say companies providing living accommodations for seniors should be legislated to have backup power.

If not, he said, more of the same will happen again.

One seniors’ living facility in St. John’s that didn’t have any challenges facing it during the blackout is Kenny’s Pond Retirement Residence.

It has a backup generator powerful enough to run the kitchen and walk-in freezers as well as heat the dining room, common room and one elevator.

David Pye, environmental services for the facility, said the company hasn’t been legislated to provide backup power, but having a generator onsite was something the organization put in place on its own.

Executive director Mary Davis said because of it there were few challenges facing the facility when it lost power around 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

“We were pretty much prepared with emergency preparedness because of all of the warnings from the media,” she said.

“We started preparing and had full staff on, and were able to provide medical care if needed and all the services without interruption,” she said.


MHA wants concrete plan

St. John’s Centre MHA Gerry Rogers attended a Tuesday night meeting between management and residents of Cambridge Estates. She left with the impression there was no concrete emergency plan in place for an evacuation.

“One would think that in order to have a facility like this that there would be one,” she said. “One that’s reliable and that would set off a number of procedures.”

She suggested the provincial government could have a role to play in requiring such homes to have those plans in place.

A lack of emergency lighting had obvious consequences in her view.

“You have a situation with residents, a lot of them with mobility issues, in complete darkness,” said Rogers. “A lot of residents were quite afraid.”

She said families were disappointed they could not reach staff or speak with their family members. Attempts to call the Holiday Inn following the evacuation were also unsuccessful when it came to finding out what was going on.

“What ensued was a whole lot of chaos, fear and worry,” said Rogers.

She added that the need for government to identify shortcomings and find solutions with respect to personal-care homes is all the more essential given the fact Newfoundland and Labrador has an aging population that’s growing.