By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ Staff Writer
A state-appointed volunteer, charged with reporting on the condition of Clovis’ Buena Vista nursing home, solicited sexual favors from nursing home employees, the nursing home’s owner has alleged.
A state official said this week she did not know about the allegations, but said the volunteer’s reports played only a minor role in the state’s ultimate decision to take control of Buena Vista in May.
The issue is expected to come up at 8 a.m. Saturday when a hearing on the receivership continues in Curry County’s district court.
Dr. Ali Ghaffari, owner of Buena Vista, said the volunteer’s behavior last December is just one example of the state’s inappropriate actions in seizing the nursing home.
“This is beyond my comprehension of how this could happen in the United States,” Ghaffari said. “Is that the way the government is supposed to work?”
Katrina Hotrum, head of the state’s long-term care ombudsman program, said she learned of the allegations against the volunteer this week from a newspaper reporter. She said Ghaffari should have made the allegations known earlier.
“I am absolutely outraged,” Hotrum said. “If our volunteers are behaving in this matter we need to know immediately. I am more disappointed in Dr. Ghaffari because, if this is true, of the potential risk to his residents.”
Ghaffari said State Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, was told about the allegations in April. Ghaffari said he did not report them to the state because he did not trust state officials.
Campos said he received reports from Buena Vista employees about numerous allegations, but did not take action after learning the state was investigating the nursing home.
The state took control of Buena Vista on May 20, alleging conditions at the facility posed “imminent danger” to residents.
Ghaffari claims the state’s reasons for seizing the nursing home were based on incorrect information, including reports filed by the state-appointed ombudsman whose sexual advances were rebuffed.
A Buena Vista employee said she made a tape recording of one proposition from the man who had identified himself to staff and residents as a minister and had been reading the Bible with residents.
On the tape, the ombudsman telephoned Buena Vista, learned the employee would be going to Albuquerque for a training session, and asked to accompany her. He then asked to go out to lunch with her in Clovis and pay her to go with him to a motel room.
“What do you want me to do?” the employee asked.
“We’re gonna make love,” the ombudsman replied. “We’re gonna make a little love right quick.”
“You’re married … and you’re a preacher,” the employee responded.
“Preachers have sex,” the ombudsman said.
“With your wife, yeah,” she replied.
The ombudsman said he would try to help get the employee a supervisory position and would take steps to get Buena Vista shut down if he caught managers yelling at the employee.
The employee rebuffed the ombudsman’s advances and turned the tape over to Ghaffari. She said the volunteer had previously propositioned her and two other nursing home employees, which prompted her to make the tape recording.
Attempts to locate the ombudsman were unsuccessful and his Clovis phone number has been disconnected. State officials said they haven’t been in contact with him since late fall, and two Clovis ministers said they believed he had moved out of the area.
Hotrum said her agency’s last contact with the ombudsman was in October when he told the state he was leaving for a three-month vacation but never called back.
“If we had known about this we would have taken swift action,” she said.
According to state procedures, volunteer ombudsmen receive training and screening before they are appointed.
“We focus on the residents, we advocate for their wants, wishes, and desires, we develop trust with the residents,” Hotrum said.
Hotrum confirmed the ombudsman’s reports were a factor in selecting Buena Vista for an undercover investigation that eventually led to the state takeover and shutdown. But she said his reports were less important than other reports the state had been receiving.
She said Buena Vista would have been investigated even without the ombudsman’s reports.
“Absolutely, without a doubt,” Hotrum said.