AIDS edict fuels dispute
Man with disease banned from using pool at mobile home park
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"They can't discriminate because
someone has HIV," he said. "There's no basis for
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.