I wanted to make the best of a very uncomfortable situation. I would go to my appointments at Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN) on time, fill out all the paper work, and just keep to myself. Always signing a Zero Tolerance Policy that stated that as a client I may lose services for the reasons they had listed. And with a HUGE copy of that policy hanging on the wall of everyone’s office, no matter how polite the staff was in during my intake it was a big deterrent for me to open up and really talk or complain to the staff about any kind of healthcare problems I needed help with.
It wasn’t until 2010 when Sybrina Bernabei started to work at AFAN that enabled me to be less stress with my visits to AFAN, and start being comfortable in having more of a dialogue with the staff. I had met Bernabei in back in 2008 during her time working at the Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada when she was the HIV prevention coordinator of the Vegas Mpowerment Project. Also a member of non-profit group that raised money for people with HIV/AIDS called the Sin Sity Sisters, I felt that Bernabei was someone I could confined in about anything about my HIV status and healthcare. Bernabie asked if I would be interested in volunteering at AFAN. She showed me around AFAN’s offices, introduced me to much of the other staff like Jared Hafen.
We even visited Jennifer Morss at her office. Bernabei introduced me to Morss, who was seated at her desk at the end of a very long room. Bernabei wanted Morss to know about the previous times I had volunteered with her, but Morss seemed rather irritated with my presents in her office. My first thought was that she knew it was me who sent that letter asking that she stop supporting the Canyon Ridge Christian Church. And she must have quickly associated my name after Bernabei had introduced us. Morss just sat their, growing more and more irritated until Bernabei suggested that we visit the other part of AFAN.
After Bernabei took me to AFAN’s Education Department which was a separate section of AFAN. A large space with lots of tables, seating, computers, resources, a small kitchen, some small offices, and lots of people. All of which were clients. All this time there was the space for programs and for clients to socialize just down that hall from the AFAN’s main lobby. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this before? Bernabie introduced me to the Education Department staff Lane Olson (the supervisor), Jim Foley, and Meckell Milburn. A volunteer named of Alex asked me about taking part in the art program he help host at AFAN (started by Olson and another volunteer named Cook). It was mostly a social program for clients to do art, crafts, and make holiday cards and decorations for AFAN’s upcoming events.
After that day things had drastically changed for me. In the Education Department I had great support, having other people with HIV, and I looked forward to coming to AFAN. But back in the main offices, the staff seemed a bit less friendly. Aside from them now always wearing business attire my appointments started feeling like going to a Bank. The office staff were always busy and I kept asking about applying for other assistance like to see a dentist, and for my eyes. But the staff would say that unfortunately at that time they just didn’t have the funds for those programs. Later I found out that all they needed to do is a referral to another agency so I could see a dentist or get new much needed glasses. My family was finally able to help with pay for my two cracked wisdom teeth to be removed. Without their help I don’t know where I’d be now.
It was in May 16th or 17th, 2010 during a visit to Bernabei’s office when I felt a need to tell her that as a client how uncomfortable I was that AFAN was supporting the Canyon Ridge Christian Church (CRCC), which cause me a lot of anguish with coming to AFAN. I was concerned about AFAN’s Zero Tolerance Policy for clients, because it specified that if I conducted any type libel offense against AFAN, I would loose my services from them. Especially with the huge posters of the policy in every office, it felt like if I had even the slightest disagreement with a staff member that I could be punished. Bernabei told me that she had heard the same concerns from other clients. And that the next chance she had she would talk to her boss about it since Morss.
On May 19th, 2010 I found out on my visited to AFAN that Sybrina Bernabei had been fired. Outside of the building that house AFAN by the smoking area I saw a group of other clients and I came over to say hi. They were talking about how one of them over heard Morss telling some of the staff there was no longer a “Back-to-work Coordinator position needed” since there were “no funds.” So Sabrina was gone, and something about all didn’t make any sense.
Later that day I called Bernabei since I still had her cell number. She told me that the day after we spoke that Jennifer Morss came into Bernabei’s office to discuss something. Bernabei used the opportunity to explained to Morss that clients were coming to her upset about the changes being made, especially with the Zero Tolerance Policy. Bernabei said that Morss didn’t seem interested in talking further with her. The next day Bernabei arrived to work to find that Jared Hafen was awaiting for her to escort her off property.
My guess is Morss doesn’t like employees to express themselves.Talking with other clients I found out that this was something Morss had done with other staff members. Morss would get rid of them, ruin their reputations so they would hang out to dry with no or little hope of gaining employment in the same field. I just kept my thoughts to myself.
My visits to the Education Department grew more frequent. It was near the end of August of 2010, Lane Olson brought up that AFAN was looking for submissions for an upcoming art exhibit called “Hung In Vegas” which featured HIV/AIDS themed visual art that upcoming September 8th or 9th. I was interested and submitted some art. I also offered to volunteer for the night of the event and I got the Olson’s mobile number so I could get a hold of him if any issues came up.When I arrived at the event I saw one of the other staffers from the Education Department standing with some of the clients that came out for the event. They all look upset. I asked where was the event coordinator Lane? Everyone explained to me that the Olson had been let go. A client interjected that “he [Olson] was fired and it was bullshit.” another client said they were going to start a petition to the board of AFAN.
A few days later I had an appointment at the Wellness Center a clinic for HIV+ people, located on the second floor above AFAN. I bumped into Meckell from AFAN’s Education Department on my way to the elevator. She looked sad, even scared. I gave her a hug and asked if everything was alright. She said “No. There’s somethings going on.” and quickly headed off. Instead of going in the elevator I walked into AFAN’s lobby to see if any other clients were around. Next to the entrance in the lobby was a stack of notices for clients. Normally notices would be placed up on the community board. I picked one up and read it over. It was an announcement by AFAN Board President Patricia Farley Saavedra. It was a statement that there was a theft and that “Employees were terminated recently.” “Morss caught the incident in the nick of time.” It also pointed out that the amount stolen was low. I suppose that part was mentioned to reassure clients that this incident wouldn’t affect funds for their services at AFAN. My fist thought was Lane Olson was fired because he stole money from AFAN?
The letter left a lot of unanswered questions. Was it Lane Olson? Who was the other staff member? We’re the two of them in cahoots together? Were they arrested? Why weren’t their cops at AFAN right now investigating this? Why wasn’t there anything on the news about this? This seemed like a HUGE deal. I headed up to the Wellness Center to catch my appointment.
After my check up I headed home and remembered I still had the Lane’s mobile number. I figured I’d call him to find out what was going on. He didn’t pick up so I left a message asking that he call me back. I called another two times the next day. Finally I got a call back from Olson three days later.
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