Community Rehabilitation Center – the non-profit of Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney best known for its cameo appearances in the Corrine Brown trial and a Medicaid overbilling scandal – is back in the news.
The subject this time: a late-May whistleblower lawsuit in Florida’s 4th Circuit, filed by an employee who alleges that she was “unlawfully terminated” by the non-profit … after she was allegedly exposed to risk from HIV-positive clients without proper training and licensure. [Complaint against CRC].
We caught up with Gaffney Tuesday, and he noted that he was too busy with Council business the last couple of years to be held responsible.
“The last two years, I spent my time being a City Councilman,” Gaffney related, “and that’s why you hire staff to run the day to day.”
“We’ll see where it goes from here. I do know this: last 24 years, I probably hired 500 or 600 [staffers], and we’ve trained them all the same,” Gaffney said — an interesting revelation, if indeed the whistleblower’s allegations are found to have merit, with regard to not being trained to deal with HIV-positive patients.
“I don’t know the specifics,” Gaffney added, “I want to believe that my management staff knew what they [were] doing.”
One allegation the complainant made had to do with Gaffney specifically — a claim that Gaffney would “say anything to you to get you out of his face.”
Gaffney was “disturbed … that any person would say that. But I haven’t yet began to look into that,” the Councilman said of the suit filed nearly a month ago, “because I’ve been so focused on city business.”
Gaffney doesn’t expect CRC to settle, saying “there’s no merit to settle,” and he will trust his staff and the decisions they made.
Backstory on the filing, in exhaustive detail, below:
The plaintiff, Darlene Peoples, worked for CRC from 2013 to Sept. 2016. Most of her tenure was unremarkable – until the end.
In Jun. 2016, Peoples was “inexplicably” re-assigned to be a “mental health counselor” from her previous position, “substance abuse counselor,” in a move the filing describes as “ill-advised.”
There was a problem with that re-assignment: Peoples allegedly wasn’t trained in this position, which requires licensure and training according to Florida Statute.
No license? No matter, Peoples asserts. Despite her concerns about not being licensed, and other “safety concerns,” the tenured employee was put in a position for which she was not ready. Allegedly.
Meanwhile, Peoples alleges that her replacement as a substance abuse counselor “had no experience in substance abuse counseling, and frequently expressed how overwhelmed and unqualified she felt in her new position.”
Weeks after the re-assignment, CRC set up an appointment to train Peoples in the job to which she was assigned. The trainer, alleges Peoples, no-showed the meeting. When Peoples told Human Resources, she allegedly was served up a cryptic response: “Emergencies happen.”
The training was scuttled – including training in AIDS education, via the state-mandated Ryan White program. The employee Peoples was assigned to shadow for two weeks in lieu of training also hadn’t been trained in this pivotal program. Allegedly.
The most Peoples learned from this employee? Billing procedures, asserts the filing. And even regarding how to bill, Peoples alleges that a key component – DCF’s “Functional Assessment Ratings Scales” – was not provided. So, allegedly, CRC got that wrong too.
“Given the mental health conditions of her [HIV-positive] patients,” the filing alleges, the “lack of risk management training from the Defendant was especially concerning and posed an acute threat to patients and herself.”
Despite her alleged objections to this, Peoples alleges that other efforts toward training were unfulfilled and frustrated, culminating in an alleged Aug. 2016 assertion by another CRC employee that “we don’t have a training manual for Ryan White mental health counselors.”
As slipshod as Peoples alleges the training was, the grievance process went no better, as she alleges she was thwarted when seeking the grievance policy.
And a conversation with Reggie Gaffney, the regional director of CRC, went no better – allegedly.
Peoples said she felt unsafe. Gaffney said he would look into it. Nothing happened from there, save another CRC employee telling her that “People need to follow the chain of command. Mr. Gaffney will tell you anything to get you out of his face.”
Soon thereafter, Peoples was terminated, allegedly for a “bigoted” attitude toward HIV-positive people. This, alleges Peoples, despite the fact that she had worked with HIV-positive inmates for six years as a correctional officer with no incident.
Peoples asserts that OSHA guarantees her a safe workplace – and that standard was not met, willfully, by the Councilman’s non-profit.
Councilman Gaffney’s brief career in political life has been characterized by an unusual amount of aspersions cast on his ethics.
On the campaign trail in 2015, Gaffney was hammered by a political opponent in a debate for Medicaid overbilling.
“He was charged with overbilling, worked that deal, and that’s how he stayed out of jail,” the opponent asserted.
It was left to Gaffney’s consultant, disgraced and currently incarcerated Brunswick preacher Ken Adkins, to make peace, walking Gaffney to his car.
As he and Adkins beat a hasty retreat, Gaffney issued a public prayer: “Father, I ask you to remove Satan from this room.”
Gaffney was expected to be a witness in the trial of his former political mentor, Corrine Brown, especially after documentation surfaced that money moved from one CRC subsidiary to Brown’s bank account, and after a pattern was established by the state that Brown issued dummy donations to non-profits.
Gaffney asserted that Brown was doing the “right thing with my money” – an interesting syntactical choice, given that the money was that of the non-profit. And Brown apparently donated to CRC over the years.
Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, was concerned by Gaffney’s statements (reported Action News Jax’s Jenna Bourne), yet ultimately chose to file new trial and acquittal motions based on other factors besides Gaffney’s credibility and ability to deliver on the stand.
In fact, the motion for a new trial was predicated almost exclusively on whether or not a juror could be removed for being guided in deliberations by “the Holy Spirit.”
Gaffney has told this reporter on numerous occasions that he intends to run for re-election in 2019. He faces, thus far, three opponents — though none have traction with donors as of yet.