By Allen Payton
Eight Antioch residents of two assisted living facilities licensed to and operated by the same people, fell ill over the weekend, and three died from possible food poisoning. According to a KTVU Channel 2 news report by Tom Vacar, on Monday, “investigators think a Thanksgiving dinner is to blame.”
Yet, according to Dr. Louise McNitt of Infectious Disease with Contra Costa Public Health during a Monday afternoon press briefing, “All the patients are associated with the same living facility, so it’s unclear if the illness is related to the Thanksgiving Day event or their living situation.”
However, Tuesday morning Michael Weston, spokesperson for the California Department of Social Services, said, “two of the deceased individuals were from Minerva’s Place on Palo Verde Way and the third individual was from Minerva Place IV which is on El Paso Way” in Antioch.
The two residential care homes, described as assisted living facilities, are licensed by Minerva Gonzalez and Emerito Ramon Gonzalez is listed as the Administrator. Each facility is licensed for up to six residents.
In addition to the facilities that are currently open, according to an internet search, there are or have been four other Minerva Place facilities at different addresses in Antioch, including Minerva’s Place Arf, Minerva’s Place #2, Minerva Place II and Minerva Place III.
All eight of those who got sick are believed to have eaten a Thanksgiving dinner at the Veterans Memorial Building and American Legion Hall on West 6th Street in Antioch on Thursday. The annual dinner was provided by the Golden Hills Community Church which rented out the hall, as they have been doing for about the past 30 years.
“We don’t know that the eight elderly people from the assisted living facility actually came to the hall to eat,” said Linda Oransky, who helped organize the Antioch dinner with her husband Jeff. “That was what was reported on the news, but it had not been confirmed.
The church also serves Thanksgiving meals in Brentwood and Bethel Island. There were 825 people who were served meals at the Antioch location and 800 were served at the Brentwood location, according to Brian Sharp, a member of the church, who has been in charge of the Brentwood effort for the past ten years.
“No one else has told me that anyone else has said they got sick,” he stated.
Last Friday and Saturday eight people were admitted into Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch with possible food borne illnesses.
According to a Sutter Health statement released on Monday, “Between Friday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 26, Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch received eight patients with probable food borne symptoms. Three patients have died, four patients were treated and released and one patient remains hospitalized. Contra Costa Public Health is investigating the cause and do not believe there is any risk to the general public.”
According to Vacar’s report, “Sutter was not the only one to receive patients.”
He also said the Contra Costa Coroner’s office is performing autopsies.
Vacar reported he was told the sick people were seniors from a senior center, but had not been able to confirm that.
At a 5:00 p.m. press briefing in Martinez on Monday, Marilyn C. Underwood, Ph.D., of Contra Costa County Environmental Health Services and Dr. Mcnitt answered questions.
One reporter asked referring to the church, “do they have the proper food handling permit?”
Dr. Underwood responded.
“The non-profit group that held the Thanksgiving event in Antioch is the Golden Hills Community Church and they’ve been sponsoring this for many, many years,” she stated. “I did speak with them about the type of event they had, does not need to be permitted by Environmental Health. They were using a permitted facility, which is the Veterans Hall also known as the American Legion location in Antioch.”
“And when we spoke with them about the food safety techniques they used they all sounded very appropriate,” Underwood continued. “Again, this is information we discussed with them, today.”
Asked about the senior facility where “are you also looking into the facility where these elderly people came from that they live in,” she replied, “We at Environmental Health do not oversee those particular facilities. They’re actually overseen by a state agency, the Department of Social Services. So we are in touch with them and made them aware of it so that hopefully they will be pursuing it.”
Dr. Mcnitt was able to answer the question, stating “my understanding is that we have been in touch with them but we’re still interviewing patients and just trying to get more information about what could be the cause of the illness.”
When asked what was served that night, Dr. Mcnitt responded, “I don’t believe we have a list of all the food that was served.”
However, Dr. Underwood stated, “In the discussion that we had with the pastor, it’s a traditional Thanksgiving meal: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, bread. They had pies. So it’s a pretty traditional type of meal for Thanksgiving.”
“We’ve not received reports from any other health care facilities related to this incident,” Mcnitt stated. “At this point we do not believe that there’s any risk to the general public.”
The church serves the Thanksgiving meals to homeless and low-income individuals, and those who don’t want to be alone, on the holiday. For disclosure purposes, this reporter is a member of the church, and has attended the church since 1991. I have participated in the annual Thanksgiving meals many times over the past 20 years, including donating pies from a local bakery, and canned vegetables, and serving in the Antioch location, as well as eating the meal served there, a few times.
Attempts to reach Senior Pastor Larry Adams and Phil Hill, the Executive Pastor of the church, which has campuses in both Antioch and Brentwood, were unsuccessful. However, the church issued the following “Official Statement Regarding Thanksgiving Dinner” on their website Monday evening:
“We recently were informed that several people from the same care facility in Antioch, who were at our Antioch Thanksgiving Dinner, became sick and it is reported that 3 of them have died. County Health officials have informed us that the source of the illness is not known and could have come from any of a number of sources. Our dinner in Antioch is only one of a number of possibilities that County Health is investigating. We are fully cooperating with health officials and are praying fervently for the families who lost loved ones and for others who are sick. We will try to post updates from County Health as we are made aware.”
Also, a post on the church’s Facebook page included the comment, “Please join us in praying for the affected families.”
In addition, both Sharp, and Jeff and Linda Oransky, the organizers of the Antioch meal, were able to share what they had learned, so far.
“We do not know the cause of the contamination,” Sharp said. “It either came from the house or the Thanksgiving Dinner.”
“What I learned from the Antioch chairperson, Jeff Oransky, is an outside group brought food to the hall, last year. They were told not to. They came back again, this year, and handed to people standing in line, prepared meals from food not served in the hall, in plastic containers meant to be taken home.”
Sharp said neither he nor Oransky know if anyone who got sick received one of those meals.
When reached for comment asking about what Sharp said regarding the outside group handing out meals, Oransky said, “Yes, that’s true. They had prepared some meals and were handing them out in Styrofoam, take-out containers, like the ones restaurants hand out.”
“They were out there handing meals to people to whomever they saw,” said Linda. “The people were outside of the hall, at an outside entrance that was not the main entrance, when they entered with the food. They tried to come inside. I met them inside and stopped them. I told them that we couldn’t accept their meals. They told me they had already been handing out meals outside.”
It was food prepared somewhere else and not at the hall.
“That’s why we wouldn’t take it from them or allow them to hand it out to people inside the hall,” Jeff stated. “I don’t know who they were handing them out to.”
The Oranskys lead the annual effort, together.
“We have a team of people that help us,” Jeff shared. “Golden Hills has been serving the Thanksgiving meals for about 30 years.”
The Oranskys have been in charge of the one in Antioch for the past 12.
“This is the first time there’s ever been a medical-related incident like this, that I know of,” he stated. “I’ve been leading it for 12 years and serving for 15 years and I’ve never seen one, myself.”
“Linda and I ate there on Thursday, ourselves” he added, and they didn’t get sick.
Asked if he’d heard of anyone else getting sick since Thursday, Jeff replied, “All I’ve heard is the eight.”
When asked if they knew who the group was handing out the prepared meals, Jeff said, “No. I have no idea who those people were handing out meals.”
Asked if Linda knew, he responded, “We don’t know. She just asked them to go away.”
“With no others reported sick and eight people in one house, it sure seems like the source was likely the house, not outside food,” Sharp added. “But no one knows for sure, yet.”
Department of Social Services
According to the California Department of Social Services’ website, Minerva’s Place was licensed in 2007, Minerva Place IV in 2011 and there have been no complaints for either of the two current locations.
The report from the visit on August 29, 2016 to Minerva’s Place showed no violations. However, under the “Citations” drop down menu, the location has received four citations, two Type A and two Type B. Yet, under Inspections it shows the facility has one Type A and two Type B citations.
Under Other Visits, it shows one Type A Citation on January 30, 2015. It also states “One or more citations may be under appeal. Contact the State Licensing Office for more information. Other visits include anything other than yearly inspections and complaints, where the state may visit for administrative or follow up purposes, such as pre/post licensing processes.
The other two citations were from the visit in 2012, which the website doesn’t provide any details.
The Facility Evaluation Report from the state required five-year visit to Minerva Place IV on April 25, this year, stated “There are violations under California Code of Regulations, title 22 and are listed on 809-D,” “Appeal rights given” and “report reviewed with Minerva Gonzalez.”
“It was just a Type-B Citation for obtaining a doctor’s order saying it’s necessary to have a bedrail for an individual,” Weston explained.
Type B Citations are for violations that can be corrected, such as paperwork or other administrative things. Type A Citations are more serious, and can involve such things as wages, medication errors, food poisoning or death. If a violation is repeated within six months the owners will be fined $150 or the facility can be closed.
“You can have things start to increase,” Weston explained. “So it could be $150 per day if you’re not fixing a deficiency.”
“We’re working with public health officials in Contra Costa County and they will determine to the best of ability what happened and what’s the source of this,” he continued. “We will determine was the proper care and supervision given, and did they seek the appropriate care and in a timely manner.”
“If the facility is the source of this and there was a danger in the facility, we’ll make sure that will be addressed, as well,” Weston added. “Based on that information we’ll take appropriate action, if necessary.”
A call was made to the number listed for both facilities, seeking answers from the Gonzalez’ to the following questions: did the eight residents actually ate at the church’s Thanksgiving dinner? Did any of them receive and eat a meal distributed by the outside group? Did they all go back to one facility and eat or drink anything else? and did they own the other four locations and if so, why were they closed? But, no response was received before publication time.
Please check back later for updates to this report and any additional details.