Experts give advice for finding best elder care home

Even before Loomis poisonings, it’s a stressful process for some
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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As part of her job at a small elder care facility in Auburn, Pepsi Pittman said she develops relationships with the families of prospective clients, working to gain their trust that Almond Gardens Elder Care is a safe, welcoming place for their loved ones.

Pittman said she doesn’t expect gaining that trust to get any tougher in the wake of the mushroom poisonings at Gold Age Villa in Loomis that led to the deaths of four residents in November.

It’s always been a tough process for families, she said, regardless of this most recent tragedy. But there are a number of steps people can take to mitigate any concerns and ensure their elders will be properly cared for by staff.

“I think the process could be tough for anyone placing a loved one,” said Pittman, an assistant administrator at the facility on Almond Street that is licensed for eight residents. “It’s kind of hard to give that control over to somebody else.”

The most important step in evaluating a potential care home is getting to know as much about the staff as possible and that includes visiting the facility in person, she said.

“Meeting the entire staff is extremely important, because when your loved one goes into an assisted living facility, the staff becomes their family almost,” Pittman said. “We know their ins and outs, and we are taking care of them every day. They become our family.”

Any employee, volunteer, or person who has a significant presence at a facility must undergo a criminal background check, including a scan of the Department of Justice and FBI databases, said  Michael Weston, spokesman for California Department of Social Services, or CDSS. If someone gains clearance but later commits a crime, the CDSS is notified and handles it accordingly, Weston said.

Nothing in caregiver Lilia Tirdea’s background check indicated that she would not follow instruction – that she would go against what owner Raisa Oselsky trained her to do, including a rule that all food served to residents be purchased from a store, according to the CDSS’ investigation of Gold Age Villa.

The state struck Tirdea, who also had been sickened by eating food containing wild mushrooms picked from the facility’s yard, with a lifetime ban from its facilities. The incident was determined to be an accident by the CDSS.

“You’re supposed to post menus in these facilities, however you go into some, they’re so yellowed around the edges you know it’s been posted for five years,” said Pat McGinnis, executive director of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. “If people are concerned about this kind of thing, poisoning, I would bring it up with the administrator.”

McGinnis agreed that nothing can replace the value of visiting a facility in person before making a decision.

She said a good time to visit would be during the lunch hour, as that would provide a good look at how well staffed a facility is.

“If they don’t have enough staff then, then I can guarantee they’re not going to have enough staff at night,” McGinnis said.

Other questions she said people may want to consider are: What languages do the caregivers speak? Do the residents have their own private room? How closely located to a relative would they be living? What size facility would best suit their needs?  (They range from six to 200 beds and the larger ones face stricter regulations.)

Also ask what kinds of needs the facility can address, as some might be able to cater to certain conditions where others cannot, McGinnis said.

Beyond that, there are ways to research the background of facilities.

When visiting a facility, prospective clients are supposed to be able to view any citations it has received from the CDSS in the past year, Weston said. Some administrators are unaware of that law, McGinnis said.

For further background, people can view a facility’s licensing documents and records of any past citations by visiting any of the CDSS regional offices, the closest to Auburn being in Sacramento.

“We don’t have the technological capabilities to post them online,” Weston said.

McGinnis said her organization has been meeting with the state for years to try to get them to make the records available on the Web.

“If you live in Alameda County, which has 800 facilities, so what, you’re supposed to go to 40, 60 facilities and each one ask for the inspection report?” she said. “The department uses this as an excuse to not make this information available to the public like other states do for nursing homes, and, for Christ’s sakes, like we do for cars.

“They should be ashamed of themselves, frankly.”

As far as where to start the search, Pittman said getting personal references can be helpful.

“Talk to people you know,” she said. “Check out what is local in your community, what services they provide, and it will make it a lot less stressful.”

There are several Auburn area referral services, too, such as the one provided by the nonprofit Seniors First of Placer County.

When it comes to Gold Age Villa, the question of how – and if – it will continue to operate into the future and move past the fatal mistake remains to be answered. Numerous messages left at the facility and with Oselsky seeking comment have not been returned.

The facility, located at 8100 Horseshoe Bar Road, is licensed for six residents age 60 and older, and Oselsky has been cleared of blame related to the poisonings by the CDSS.

Regardless of the CDSS’ ruling, the families of the residents who died could still seek damages in a negligence lawsuit against the facility, said Prescott Cole, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform’s staff attorney.

The outcome of such a case would be reliant on whether or not the owner should have known what the caregiver was serving to the facility’s residents that day, Cole said.

“If an attorney is going to take this case, it is going to be a case about neglect,” he said.


Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews