I was diagnosed with HIV in 2008 and was referred to Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN) for assistance. Like anyone who’s been diagnosed with HIV I was absolutely terrified. And it made it even more difficult to get through just how insane things became at this charity. It would seem only in Las Vegas could leaders of charity actively attack the very people they claim to be protecting all playing the role of victim. With no other way to get the assistance I needed for my life saving medications I didn’t have any other choice but to keep going back to AFAN. <READ MORE HERE
In 2009 a pastor named Martin Ssempa was pushing for a law in Uganda that would imprison gays and even sentence those with HIV/AIDS to death for having sex. And the Canyon Ridge Christian Church (CRCC) was providing financial support to this pastor. The Canyon Ridge Christian Church (CRCC) is a local organization that partners with AFAN and shows up to all AFAN’s events. When activists and the media caught wind of the Uganda/CRCC/AFAN connection I couldn’t believe just how silent AFAN had been about everything. Since many blogs mention AFAN’s Director, Jennifer Morss, I decided to write to her and to AFAN’s Board letters explaining simply that I wasa client of AFAN and I urged that AFAN please no longer support the CRCC. I never received a response and after talking with other client from AFAN I was told that some staff and even the Director played favorites with clients. <READ MORE HERE
With AFAN’s previous connection to Uganda, and with the Zero Tolerance Policy for clients that allowed staff to terminated clients services, I felt intimidated during my appointments for assistance. I had to renew every 6 months at AFAN for Ryan White part A, and again for part B. While AFAN raised more and more money clients at AFAN were still going without food and transportation, while funds were used to pay high salaries and to pay off the high rent of AFAN’s building. (which later AFAN moved, breaking their lease agreement and so the agency continues to pay off this lease, for over that past 3 years. Donations indented for AFAN’s client services going to a building they don’t even use is outrageous.)
In 2009 Sybrina Bernabei started working at AFAN. I knew her from previous work in HIV/AIDS groups and I confined with her about my fear of losing assistance at AFAN and any other problems I had at AFAN. Bernabei had heard similar concerns from other clients and spoke with her boss Jennifer Morss. The next day Barnabie was fired. I started participating in AFAN’s Education Department, which was a community center for clients, ran by Lane Olson. Then later that year Olson was fired, and AFAN’s Board President Patricia Farley – Saavedra created a letter for clients saying that there was a thief at AFAN and that two employees were terminated. <READ MORE HERE
Lane Olson explained to me that on September 8th he was terminated from AFAN for gross misconduct and misappropriation of funds, and that he didn’t do anything that deserved this reason for his termination. Olson felt that it was retaliation by Morss who wanted him gone, and to ruin his reputation in the HIV community. During his termination Olson was to sign some papers which would be admitting his guilt to the accusations of misconduct and misappropriation of funds, and was offering a lump sum payment of $3,616 dollars, “Severance” pay upon his agreement for signing to the terms of their Release and Waiver form. Olson refused to sign anything because he didn’t understand what was going on. Why would someone being fired for “Stealing” would be given a severance pay? His point raised a lot of questions for me for as well. Olson was open about his HIV status, and so when he was terminated for gross misconduct and misappropriation of funds, Jennifer Morss and Patricia Farley – Saavedra knew he would not qualify for his continued coverage called Cobra insurance. This meant he would not receive coverage for his HIV medications and medical care.
Then shortly after Olson was fired it was discovered that there was a real theft committed by Jared Hafen the Associate Director under Jennifer Morss the Executive Director. Hafen had created fake client documentation so that he could receive the funds and used the money to pay his bills. So when Patricia Farley – Saavedra created the letter for clients saying that there was a thief at AFAN she was included Olson for Hafens theft. <READ MORE HERE
I wanted to so something to help Olson and change the problems I saw at AFAN, but I had no idea what to do. Another Client from AFAN starting a petition, so I got a hold of him. He had already created a letter to the Board and had almost 140 signatures from other clients and volunteers who were vocal about their outrage over Olson’s termination, including the lack of assistance from the Agency itself. I read the petition and added my name.
Any attempts to resolve issues with the leadership at AFAN were initially met with silence by the organizations leadership, then by demands for evidence of any wrongdoing with increasingly wild accusations made against me, fellow clients, and other individuals of extortion, terrorism, arson and death threats. Staffers like Derek Washington and Bob Townsend were allowed to post vulgar insults and personal attacks toward me on social media, the Executive Director Jennifer Morss filed Restraining Orders and with the support of the Executive Board of Trustees Patricia Farley – Savaadra, Scott Washburn, Nicole Cummings, Erich Christjansen, Merek Bute, and the rest of the Board allowed surveillance video of clients and their confidential files (including mine) to be posted online. AFANs Board also hosted two separate live streamed Hearings for the public to “provide evidence of any wrong doing by Morss”. The video of these hearings were then quickly taken of the internet and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) after many years of neglecting Nevada came to investigate this matter. AFAN’s Board members, Execute Director, and staff were allowed to keep their jobs after being swiftly punished with a series fees and of Work Ethics Webinars.
While some community members spoke out in outrage, surprisingly even more became and remained silent. Speaking out against injustices can also inconveniences ones personal and professional reputation and ambitions in a big city but small community like Vegas.
After Jennifer Morss stepped down at the Executive Directer in October of 2011, her friend from another agency Antioco Carrillo took her position at AFAN, but Carrillo kept Morss on payroll for almost a year. Mean while Jennifer Morss and board President Patrica Farley – Savaadra started a business together in February of 2012 until they both finally left AFAN in August of 2012. Now Patrica Farley – Savaadra is running for the state senate.
With altered leadership in place at AFAN the perception is growing that the slate has been wiped clean, and that accountability has been restored. If it had been new blood running the show and not more of the same old I would have reason to end this blog on a more positive note.
As an ex-client of AFAN I am fearful that I could be taken to court for continuing to speaking out, as that has been the case with other individuals. It seems likely after a previously failed attempt at filing restraining order against me to silence me. But if sharing these events in a very public manner can help ensure in some way that these events will not be repeated again, and that other AIDS services providers become aware of how such situations like this can unfold then perhaps the mission to protect clients rights and to keep a organization accountable was not all in vain.
But how did this all happen? For over 25 years AFAN was the leading AIDS service organization in Southern Nevada held in the highest regard. Every standard and principal held dear by clients and supporters alike was thrown out the window, or rather out on the web. In hindsight with individuals like Jennifer Morss at the helm alongside her hand picked Board of personal friends like Patrica Farley Savaadra , Scott Washburn, Nycole Cummings, and the rest, it seems easy to rationalize that their behavior and actions, and over all tribal mentality were expected.
This blog is a very public record of my accounts from over the course of what has now been 4 years at this agency. This blog’s title “Lies Unity Libel & Slander” comes from two sources. A play on AFAN’s own facebook group called Truth & Unity: Friends of AFAN (were staff and the board publicly bashed clients and shared their information) and also from AFAN’s Zero Tolerance Policy which AFAN reserves the right for its leadership to suspend or terminate a client’s service under section H: “Slander (harmful statements in a transitory form, especially speech) and Libel (harmful statement in a fix medium, especially writing, but also picture, sign or electronic broadcast)”
As you read on you will see I am by no means a writer, just someone who thinks this story should be told. Please forgive any grammatical errors in this blog and any content shared. Some names are omitted to better focus on the events themselves that took place and to protect the names of clients and to respect the privacy of any individuals who are not public about their HIV status. I ask that any persons willing to corroborate or give more insight to any of the events described in this blog to please do so, and for all other readers I urge that you ask questions, comment, share these posts with someone, anyone and everyone. This is so much more than questioning how I was treated, or the treatment of those living with HIV. It’s about asking these kinds of questions of an agency who’s mission is to provide the ethical treatment they claim as their foundation for those who are not able to and in some cases who are not allowed to advocate for themselves. Asking what kind of standards you want in your community to be held to for yourself and for those that will come after.
Thank you to everyone for your support and encouragement.
Please visit the TABLE OF CONTENTS to view available posts.