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Loomis poisonings raise question of elder care facilities' meal oversight

State continues investigation into Gold Age Villa after 2 deaths
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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As an investigation continues into the group poisoning at a Loomis elderly care facility that killed two and hospitalized four others, questions have boiled to the surface about how a caregiver could mix wild mushrooms in a soup served to elderly clients.

Placer County Sheriff’s Office officials have called the deaths of Barbara Lopes, 86, and Teresa Olesniewicz, 73, an accident. 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.

The California Department of Social Services is conducting an ongoing investigation of the facility, Gold Age Villa, located at 8100 Horseshoe Bar Road, and officials inspected it on Friday, said Michael Weston, spokesperson for the department.

Investigators spoke with owner Raisa Oselsky and ensured that the one client who remained at the facility, which is licensed to host up to six people age 60 and older, had proper care and accommodations, Weston said. He said a citation had not been issued at the time of the inspection.

Messages left Monday and Tuesday on an answering machine for Gold Age Villa and Oselsky’s cell phone were not returned. The drive leading up to the facility had a sign posted that said it was private property and media were prohibited.

Although management has kept quiet, the news of the incident had already spread through the hills of the rural community.

Geri Cribbs, walking with her 3-year-old son while he rode his big-wheel toy, described how she was “horrified” to learn that this could happen.

Cribbs lives in a mobile home park off Auburn Folsom Road about a five-minute drive from Gold Age Villa, and she said her great grandmother had been a resident in an assisted living facility prior to her death.

“Why would you be picking mushrooms and feeding it to elderly people? They’re more at risk than anybody,” said Cribbs, who said she pulls and discards the wild mushrooms that frequently spring up in her yard. “To even think that somebody would think that was OK – I mean, I thought that the people that worked in those places were supposed to be licensed at least? And I thought the caregivers were supposed to have a certain amount of training.”

Actually, that’s not the case for facilities such as Gold Age Villa licensed for fewer than 50 clients, according to regulations for residential facilities for the elderly. Only those licensed for 50 or more and providing three meals a day are required to have a full-time employee qualified by formal training or experience responsible for operation of food service, according to the code.

All facilities are required to ensure “All food shall be selected, stored, prepared and served in a safe and healthful manner.”

“In the smaller facilities, if they are within licensing and regulations, the meals could be prepared by any staff member,” Weston said. “There are not strict restrictions on the smaller facilities.”

California’s code does say that “Sufficient food service personnel shall be employed, trained and their working hours scheduled to meet the needs of residents.”

Regulations also require commercial foods to be approved by local, state and federal authorities, and the same goes for meat and poultry products, but there is no rule listed pertaining to harvesting wild or homegrown vegetables. It does prohibit “home canned foods” from being used.

There are more than 7,600 residential care facilities for the elderly statewide, and there is not enough oversight for their operations, said Pat McGinnis, executive director for the San Francisco-based California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

“I would think this should be a clarion call for other administrators to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen,” McGinnis said. “You just can’t give carte blanche where someone is throwing mushrooms in something. They should have planned menus, posted menus.”

California’s law requires facilities with fewer than 16 residents, such as Gold Age Villa to maintain a sample menu in their file that is to be made available for review by residents or their representatives upon request. Those with greater than 16 residents are required to have menus written at least a week in advance and copies of it are to be kept on file for a month.

Elder care facilities are inspected once every five years, Weston said. Gold Age Villa, licensed in March 2007, last had an inspection in March of this year, during which it was cited for improper hot water temperatures in excess of 130 degrees, he said. The facility took proper action to correct the infraction, he added.

McGinnis said it is difficult for people who are evaluating facilities for their loved ones to get information on any history of code violations, since the California Department of Social Services does not make it accessible online.

“In terms of any assurances that this kind of thing couldn’t happen, there aren’t any except that you rely on the good judgment of the people who run these places,” McGinnis said.  “And certainly this was less than good judgment here.”

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

He said crews responded at 3 p.m. Thursday, to the facility for a call on a male experiencing cramping and diarrhea; and again at 3 a.m. Friday for a female with the same symptoms.

He said South Placer Fire District transported both to local hospitals. The names of the four hospitalized clients have not been released.

 

Gold Country News Service’s Joyia Emard contributed to this report. Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews