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SAN MATEO, Calif. (KRON) – An elderly San Mateo man died a slow and painful death after an employee at his senior care facility served him a glass of “sturdy” red bathroom cleaner. ,” according to a recently filed lawsuit.
The civil wrongful death lawsuit accuses Atria Park of the San Mateo retirement home, along with its directors Jennifer Duenas and Kris Walusko, of neglecting and abusing its frail and vulnerable residents to maximize profits.
Three Atria Park residents, Peter Schroder, 93, Gertrude Elizabeth Murison Maxwell, 93, and Constantine Canoun, 94, died of suspected poisonings in the same week at two different locations.
Canoun’s family said employees at Atria Park in Walnut Creek tried to attribute his death to consumption of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Canoun’s son said his father actually died after drinking cleaning solution on August 23.
“These types of injuries that my dad suffered in any form cannot be caused by Flaming Hot Cheetos,” Cary Canoun said. His father, who suffers from dementia, was eating lunch in an unattended dining room when he consumed the cleaning fluid, according to his family.
Just three days after the poisoning at Atria Park’s Walnut Creek Assisted Living Center, a second poisoning occurred at its San Mateo facility.
Schroder, who also suffered from dementia, liked to drink cranberry juice for breakfast every morning in the dining room. On August 26, Schroder was sitting in the dining room when an employee poured a pitcher of red liquid into his glass.
The lawsuit states, “(Schroder) had no reason to believe that the liquid poured into his juice glass by the defendants’ employee was not cranberry juice. However…instead of cranberry juice, the defendant’s employee poured a highly toxic cleaner and disinfectant into (his) glass.
The facility’s security video showed a kitchen worker using Ecolab chemical 66 — “a heavy-duty bathroom cleaner and disinfectant” — to clean, the lawsuit says. “The chemical comes in a large container, and the worker decided to pour some into a small jug.”
The employee left the pitcher on a kitchen counter to handle a disturbance in the dining room.
‘Due to the lack of sufficient staff in the facility, the kitchen worker who used the cleaner had to leave the kitchen and go to the dining room as there were not enough carers to handle the disruption’ , Schroder family attorney Karman Guadagni said. , wrote.
A second employee in charge of serving breakfast saw the pitcher on the kitchen counter, placed it on the breakfast serving counter in the dining room, and a third employee began pouring the red liquid in the glasses of elderly residents, according to the lawsuit.
Three residents drank the toxic liquid, including Schroder and Gertrude Elizabeth Murison Maxwell, 93, and suddenly fell ill, according to the suit and family members. After a resident began screaming in the dining hall, the poisoned residents were rushed to a hospital in San Mateo.
Schroder’s daughter, Susan Schroder, said her father was in “extreme pain” and bleeding. The poisonous liquid reaches its maximum potency three to five days after being ingested.
Maxwell died in hospital. Peter Schroder suffered for 14 days in hospital before dying on September 7.
Maxwell’s family told KRON4 that the substance is an “alkaline cleaning solution that eats protein.” Maxwell could not feed himself, suffered from dementia and needed help drinking the poisonous liquid from a glass, according to his family. “You have to hold a cup to his mouth and put it in his mouth,” a family member said.
Maxwell is survived by his eight children and 20 grandchildren.
Atria Senior Living released a statement to KRON4 on Friday saying the red liquid was dish soap and not bathroom cleaner.
Atria Senior Living wrote, “Our ongoing internal investigation has determined that a staff member at Atria Park in San Mateo filled a pitcher with dishwashing liquid that is nearly identical in consistency and color to cranberry juice, with l intend to dispense the liquid in a commercial dishwasher. . This was a violation of our policies and procedures. Another staff member picked it up, mistaking it for juice, and served it to three residents.
The company added: “The safety and well-being of our residents remains our top priority at all times.”
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Peter Schroder lived at the facility for almost a year before his death. During that time, he suffered several falls and serious injuries due to negligent care and understaffing, according to the lawsuit.
“Jennifer Duenas and Kris Walusko have recklessly and flagrantly failed to adequately staff and train their employees at their facility,” Guadagni wrote. “Defendants knew that, according to their plan to increase profits at the expense of residents … the operation of the facility was not designed, administered or financed in a manner reasonably necessary to provide care, supervision and integration of (Schroder).”
“The reckless and flagrant acts and omissions of the defendants, as described herein, caused grievous and painful injury and death to the deceased,” Guadagni wrote.
The lawsuit also highlights the troubling and similar cause of death of Constantine Canoun at the Walnut Creek facility. His injuries to his stomach and esophagus “were consistent with drinking cleansing fluid and not drinking Hot Cheetos.” It is a model of the defendants and it is reckless and blatant,” Guadagni wrote.
In the aftermath of Canoun’s death, Atria Senior Living sent a prepared statement to KRON4 writing, “On the night of August 23, 2022, a resident of the Atria Walnut Creek community appeared to experience a backlash. We are completing our internal investigation and awaiting the official cause of death. The staff members involved have been suspended in the meantime. The health and safety of our residents are our top priorities. »
Atria Senior Living is a company that supports over 200 sites nationwide. Atria operates three facilities in the East Bay and five in the South Bay and Peninsula.
The Atria Park of San Mateo website describes its culinary approach as follows: “Healthy food prepared from fresh, seasonal ingredients, served with a side of lively conversation, makes the meal even more delicious.” Life at Atria means eating well, every day.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in San Mateo County Superior Court on September 16 against San Mateo’s Atria Park, Atria Management Company, Duenas and Waluszko. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Peter Schroder’s two children, Susan and Paul Schroder.
“Our ongoing internal investigation has determined that a staff member at Atria Park in San Mateo filled a pitcher with dishwashing liquid that is nearly identical in consistency and color to cranberry juice, with intent to dispense the liquid in a commercial dishwasher. This was a violation of our policies and procedures. Another staff member picked it up, mistaking it for juice, and served it to three residents.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Atria Senior Living said the company was working with authorities and the Department of Social Services to fully review and assess the incidents.