Loomis elder care staffer prepared lethal mushroom soup

Two deaths reinforce mushroom warnings
By: By Tracie Cone, Associated Press
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It’s a story that plays out often in California once the fall rainy season starts and mushrooms sprout: Someone unintentionally picks and eats a poisonous variety, leading to hospitalization or even death.

But Friday’s mass poisoning at an assisted-living facility in Loomis was shocking in its scope — two dead, four others sickened, including the caregiver who had prepared soup for residents using toxic wild mushrooms.

Amateurs take a big risk when they harvest wild mushrooms, especially when they serve the fungi to others, said Casey Jonquil, owner of Alpine Foragers in Portland, Ore., who certifies and sells up to 8,000 pounds of wild mushrooms a day. “You just don’t do that.”

Placer County Sheriff’s Office officials have called the deaths of Barbara Lopes, 86, and Teresa Olesniewicz, 73, an accident. Both residents of the home, Gold Age Villa in Loomis, died after eating mushroom soup.

The condition of the four others, including the worker who prepared the soup, is unknown, but Stuart Heard, executive director of California Poison Control System, said he had received word Monday that they were still being treated and progressing.

Investigators spoke with owner Raisa Oselsky and ensured that the one client that remained at the facility, which is licensed to host up to six people age 60 and older, had proper care and accommodations, said Michael Weston, spokes-person for the department.

Dave Wheeler, Loomis Fire Protection District chief, said Loomis Fire responded to two medical emergency calls to the facility for severe flu-like symptoms.

He said crews responded at 3 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, to the facility for a call on a male experiencing cramping and diarrhea; and again at 3 a.m., Friday, Nov. 9 for a female with the same symptoms. He said South Placer Fire District transported both to local hospitals.

“Our responders had no idea poisonous mushrooms were involved. The calls seemed very innocent,” Wheeler said.

Oselsky has run the home since March 2007, and the Gold Age Villa website touts its special diets and homemade meals.

“She made the best soups. It wasn’t canned. It was fantastic. For them to have made the error there is really unbelievable,” said Raymond Carlile, whose mother lived there for three years.

The names of the other victims have not been released, and Carlile fears the list could include the caretakers with whom he had become close while his mother was alive.

“They did such a good job for my mother. This is a very nice residential home. I’m concerned for everyone, but especially Raisa, who put her entire life into that place, and it’s now probably destroyed,” Carlile said.

In Northern California, it is the season for wild chanterelle mushrooms, a highly sought variety — and also the amanita species of mushrooms, which includes the descriptively named “death cap” and “death angel” varieties. Young poisonous North American amanitas often look like an edible version of a wild mushroom popular in Asia.

The California Department of Public Health periodically issues warnings about consumption of wild mushrooms.

According to state data, California had more than 1,700 reported cases of mushroom ingestion-related illnesses in 2009 to 2010.

They included 10 cases of serious poisoning and two deaths.

“We’d like for people to be careful,” Anita Gore, spokeswoman for the CDPH, said Monday.Severe mushroom poisoning can result in renal and liver failure.The California Department of Social Services is conducting an ongoing investigation of the facility,  and officials inspected it on Friday, Weston  said.He said a citation had not been issued at the time of the inspection.

Geri Cribb lives in a mobile home park off Auburn Folsom Road, minutes from Gold Age Villa.

He said, “I was horrified because nobody goes and picks wild mushrooms. Mushrooms are dangerous, so the fact that somebody would think it’s OK, unless you’re a botanist and you have a PhD in it, why would you be picking mushrooms and feeding it to elderly people? They’re more at risk than anybody.”

~Gold Country News Service’s Joyia Emard and Jon Schultz contributed to this report.