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Bay Area Nursing Home Sued for Elder Abuse After Trio of Fatal Poisonings

The daughter of a 93-year-old man who was poisoned at his San Mateo senior care facility has sued the facility for elder abuse, negligence, and wrongful death. Susan Schroder filed the lawsuit against Atria Park of San Mateo in September. In the lawsuit, she states that her father, Peter Schroder, died after being given a “red liquid” that he was informed was cranberry juice. However, the liquid, which was served in a drinking glass, was actually a toxic cleaning solution. Schroder died two weeks later due to the poisoning. 

These allegations are supported by security footage from the facility itself. In the footage, one employee uses the red heavy-duty disinfectant and cleaner Ecolab 66 to clean the kitchen. They transfer some of the solution to a smaller, unlabeled container to simplify the cleaning process. The employee then leaves to address a disruption in the dining room, where there are not enough employees to handle the issue alone. A second employee sees the small unlabeled container of red fluid on the counter and apparently assumes it is juice, pours it into cups, and serves it to three residents, including Schroder, who drink it. 

Ecolab 66 is an alkaline solution that breaks down proteins. After consuming the cleaner, all three residents quickly began experiencing extreme pain and distress. They were rushed to the hospital. Schroder and Gertrude Maxwell, another 93-year-old resident, died. The unnamed third resident remains hospitalized. 

The Alleged Trend of Poisonings at Atria Park Facilities

This is not the only case where Atria Park residents died due to consuming cleaning solution, either. In August, 94-year-old dementia patient Constantine Canoun was hospitalized with injuries consistent with consuming cleaning solution before dying nine days later. An employee at the facility initially informed Canoun’s son, Dr. Cary Canoun, that his father had found a bottle of cleaning solution left in a public area and drank from it. However, other Atria Park employees later denied this and attributed Canoun’s injuries to eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Endoscopy results from Mr. Canoun do not support this claim. 

Susan Schroder’s lawsuit against Atria Park takes all of these events into account. She alleges that the facility and the managers in charge of staffing chose to neglect and abuse elderly residents to maximize profits. She asserts that the facility was routinely understaffed to reduce costs, putting the residents at risk. In the lawsuit, Schroder argues that these horrible deaths would not have occurred if the facility had been staffed appropriately. She claims that the lack of staffing is negligent and a form of elder abuse that led to her father’s death. 

The deaths of Peter Schroder, Gertrude Maxwell, and Constantine Canoun are tragic examples of how neglect in a nursing home can be fatal. However, there are multiple ways neglect can harm elderly patients. Poisonings caused by negligence may be elder abuse or medical malpractice, depending on the situation. We’ve broken down the differences between the two forms of harm and explained how to fight for your loved ones. 

The Fine Line Between Elder Abuse and Medical Malpractice

The line between elder abuse and medical malpractice is thin in a senior care facility. Most patients who live at these facilities require supervision and care and failing to provide that help could fall under either umbrella. The specific details of the case determine whether it is abuse or malpractice. 

For an incident to be considered medical malpractice, it must meet specific criteria: 

  • There was an established care relationship between the victim and a medical professional
  • There was a violation of the standard of care
  • This violation harmed the patient

This can occur in senior care facilities if that facility provides medical care to its residents. For example, if a nurse gives a resident the wrong medication or dose and poisons them, that may be medical malpractice.

Elder abuse is broader. The CDC defines it as “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult occurs at the hands of a caregiver or a person the elder trusts.” That means your loved one’s suffering could be caused on purpose through physical, sexual, or emotional assault, or it may result from neglect. The tragic deaths at Atria Park fall under this category because the employees involved were not providing medical care. While poisoning is obviously harmful, it cannot be medical malpractice unless it occurs while a healthcare worker should be providing medical care. 

However, these categories can become blurry. If a patient is supposed to receive round-the-clock care from CNAs or nurses, neglect could be considered medical malpractice or abuse, depending on the situation. 

For example, if an older adult needs help to keep themselves clean, a lack of hygiene support may be elder abuse if the caretaker is not a medical professional. However, if the patient is bedbound in a healthcare facility, failing to bathe them may be medical neglect. The best way to determine how a specific instance of negligence should be defined is to consult with an experienced medical malpractice and elder abuse attorney.

Fight for Your Loved Ones With Expert Legal Representation

Atria Park in San Mateo is far from the only senior care facility accused of cutting corners to maximize profits. If you believe your older loved one is suffering from neglect or abuse at their care facility, you can take action on their behalf. 

At the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, we have years of experience with both medical malpractice and elder abuse cases. Schedule your case review today to discuss your situation with our expert attorney. We will work with you to determine the best way to address the harm your loved one has suffered and fight on your behalf against negligent residential care facilities

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