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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

      

AIDS edict fuels dispute

Man with disease banned from using pool at mobile home park

By RICHARD LAKE
REVIEW-JOURNAL


Ralph Torres says he has used the pool at the mobile home park where he lives only once since he moved in earlier this year.

Then the lawyers told him he couldn't swim there anymore because he has AIDS. They said that's what state law requires them to do.

Doctors, AIDS activists, government health officials and legal experts have labeled that claim ridiculous.

"I want a public apology," Torres, 43, said in an interview Thursday afternoon. "From them and the owners."

Last month, the management of the Carefree Country Mobile Home Park somehow found out that Torres has AIDS. The park's attorneys sent him a letter saying he can no longer use the community's pool.

    

"While we sympathize with your condition, we must inform you that this disease prohibits your usage of the pool or spa facility," the letter from the Las Vegas law firm of Hutchison and Steffen declares.

The lawyers go on to say that the Nevada Administrative Code states that no one with a "communicable disease" may use a public pool, and further, the Nevada State Health Division defines AIDS as a communicable disease.

Those two points are true, state and Clark County health officials acknowledged in interviews Friday. But, they said, to use the law to keep Torres or anyone else with AIDS from a public pool stands the intent of the law on its head.

"The intent of that regulation was not to stop someone with HIV or AIDS from swimming in a pool," said Jennifer Sizemore, spokeswoman for the Clark County Health District. "It's a shame that they're being used to discriminate against someone."

She said that the Health District regulates public pools in the county and that there are no rules prohibiting people with AIDS from swimming in them.

Indeed, experts said they don't believe there's ever been a case of someone getting AIDS in such a manner.

"The truth is, everybody who has ever gone in a public pool in Southern California has probably swam with someone who has AIDS," said Dr. Michael Karagiozis, a Las Vegas physician who has worked with AIDS patients for almost 20 years.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there's no evidence that AIDS can be contracted from swimming in a pool.

Torres, who said he also suffers from hepatitis C and heart disease, said he has been threatened with eviction if he uses the pool. He said he has received anonymous, threatening phone calls at home since telling his story to the local media.

But he said he also has received support from some of his neighbors, even if he hasn't gotten to know many of them all that well since moving into the park in January.

Neighbors Dave and Zina Homstrom said they were evicted only days after publicly expressing their support for Torres.

    

"I think it's great to see people standing up like Ralph is," Dave Homstrom said. "You don't see enough of that anymore."

He said he received an eviction notice last week, two days after paying his rent. The notice gives him 30 days to leave the park he has lived in for a little more than a year, but it does not say why he is being evicted.

It does not matter, he said, because he and his family had planned to leave soon anyway.

The managers of the North Nellis Boulevard mobile home park, Mike and Rhonda Graham, directed all questions to the park's lawyers.

Phone calls to the law firm were directed to attorney Michael K. Wall, the lawyer who signed the letter forbidding Torres from using the pool. Wall was the only person at the firm who could answer questions about the case, his office said. But, they said, he was out of town Friday and unavailable to comment.

Messages left with account manager Nate Nelson of Kingsley Management Corp., the Utah-based company that owns Carefree Country, went unreturned Friday.

The law firm did issue a two-paragraph news release reiterating that it simply was following what it believed to be state law.

"Carefree Country Mobile Home Park does not unlawfully discriminate," the release states in part. "If the park obtains reliable authority stating that a person with AIDS and/or hepatitis B or C poses no risk to other tenants when swimming in the pool, and doing so would not violate Nevada law or county ordinances or policies, Carefree will allow Mr. Torres -- or others with his medical conditions -- to use the pool."

Karagiozis, the doctor who treats AIDS patients, said the notion that a public pool can be a vehicle to transmit AIDS is absurd.

"It's not something you can catch just by casual contact," he said. "Obviously, the public at large still doesn't understand that HIV is not an easy disease to catch."

Similarly, hepatitis C, he said, is "not something you can catch in a swimming pool."

Torres said he contracted AIDS 11 years ago when he was raped while incarcerated in a Massachusetts mental health facility while serving a sentence on a drug conviction. He recently married his second wife.

Randall Todd, Nevada's state epidemiologist, said it appears to him that the Carefree Country lawyers have misinterpreted state regulations.

The portion stating that someone with "any communicable disease" can't use a public pool is supposed to mean communicable diseases that can be transferred through water, "which wouldn't include HIV and wouldn't include a whole bunch of communicable diseases," he said.

He said the state Board of Health plans to clarify the issue at its next meeting to be sure such an incident does not happen again.

For his part, Torres already has filed a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said, and has a lawyer from Clark County Legal Services representing him.

"Justice will prevail one way or another," he said. "I'm not going to stop until I win."

Gary Peck, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said it doesn't appear to him that the mobile home park has a legal leg to stand on.

"They can't discriminate because someone has HIV," he said. "There's no basis for doing that."

Peck said the ACLU is not involved in Torres' current fight, but it has represented him in the past on another discrimination claim.

"The disease remains one about which there is a lot of irrational fear," Peck said. "It's more likely a function of prejudice and ignorance than malevolence."

William Pratt, executive director of the advocacy group Aid for AIDS of Nevada, agreed that prejudice against AIDS patients is common.

Still, he said, "I've never run into a case like this.

"It is surprising at this point that we're still finding pockets within communities that don't understand how this disease is transmitted," he said.

Janine Gill, Reporter
Man with AIDS Not Allowed to Use Pool

(July 16) -- A Las Vegas man is being told he can not use certain facilities in his housing community because he has AIDS. He says he feels like a second-class citizen with no way to fight back.

Ralph Torres wishes he could cool off in the pool during this summer heat spell. He did take a dip earlier this month, but the next day, he received a letter from the management at the Carefree Country Mobile Home Park.

"The manager said we need a letter from your doctor stating your condition and if you're safe enough to go in our swimming pool," said Torres.

Management found out Torres has AIDS and informed him that according to Nevada Administrative Code, anybody suffering from colds, fevers, coughs, or any communicable disease must not use a public pool. They issued a letter stating, "While we sympathize with your condition, we must inform you that this disease prohibits your usage of the pool or spa facility."

"I was mad and angry," said Torres.

It's nonsensical, there's no reason to be excluded," said Dr. James Hogan. He says there is no scientific evidence showing AIDS can be spread in a pool. Torres also has Hepatitis C. Again, Hogan says other people in the pool would not be put at risk.

"Unless there's intimate contact or exposure to blood products then there's not any transmission," said Hogan.

Torres says he is not surprised at the reaction. He just hopes his story educates others not to be prejudiced.

Torres also has Hepatitis B, which could be a health threat, but Torres says that disease is dormant. Eyewitness News talked to the law firm representing the management company, but they would not comment on camera.

Torres also suffers