Ill treatment at Hugo Chávez Centre
…as ministry issues statement
By Michael Younge
People’s Progress Party (PPP) Member of Parliament Harry Gill on Saturday called on the Guyana Police Force and other independent agencies to probe what he said was a “worrying” incident, which allegedly occurred at the Hugo Chávez Centre for Rehabilitation and Reintegration. He made this comment after it was recently discovered that five residents, who reside there, fell ill after being doused and sprayed down with cleaning detergent and other chemicals because they reportedly missed a bathing session.
The incident is said to have occurred on Tuesday last and was witnessed by several staff members and others at the Centre.
An employee, who witnessed the mistreatment of the men, who requested anonymity, told Guyana Times on Friday evening that the men were stripped, placed to sit down and then showered with the cleaning detergent which was mixed with other substances used to clean household areas.
When contacted for a comment on the matter, which was also brought to his attention, Gill said he was not shocked by the allegations or incident. He said he has been getting constant complaints about the mistreatment and cruelty meted out to staff and residents at the institution by Joseph.
He alleged that there are also damning reports of the food supplies and resources of the Centre being misused and sold by the administrator to external forces in order to secure profits and monetary gains.
“I have been receiving a lot of reports of wrongdoings…,” he said, adding that one of the residents who was mistreated was a teenager.
“As it is right now, I am calling on the Police to go to the Hugo Chávez Centre to investigate this complaint because these residents are suffering from swollen eyes and are crying out because they skin is infected,” he related.
He said he would not be allowed in the Centre but there is an urgent need for the authorities to investigate because of the level of abuse that is taking place there.
Asked if as an MP he would be raising the issue with his colleague Member of Parliament, Social Protection Minister Amna Ally, Gill responded in the positive.
The PPP MP said he would officially be speaking with the Commander of B Division (Berbice) as he pressed for some intervention to be made into the incident and other reports.
He confirmed that he had already made contact with the relevant authorities to have the matter investigated properly as he fears there would be attempts to cover up the incident.
Meanwhile, the Social Protection Ministry on Saturday hurriedly put-together a statement in which it confirmed that the residents were indeed showered with what they referred to as a “non-harmful deodorising solution”. This is after the Administrator of the Centre, Carol Joseph, denied that any such incident or bathing of residents with cleaning detergent took place on Friday.
“Residents of the Hugo Chávez Centre were having a bath and a non-harmful deodorising solution was used, as is normative to neutralise body odors in the promotion of a safe and healthy environment. At no time is any violent or excessive force used,” the Ministry stated.
Calling the allegations of the employees and whistleblower “fallacious assertions”, the Ministry said the report was “deceptive… distorted and absolutely defamatory” as it asked for a retraction.
The Ministry even admitted that its resident doctor for the Centre was away on training when the incident occurred, explaining that another is attached to the Centre and visits every Monday and Friday despite the fact that the incident is said to have occurred on a Tuesday.
An employee had told Guyana Times on Friday that the victims “did nothing wrong… they merely missed the bath and didn’t bathe for the day.”
The employee related that the men who were the victims of cruelty and mistreatment at the hands of the administrator were mentally challenged in some cases and differently abled in others.
The names of the victims of Tuesday’s mistreatment are Mark Kingston, Leroy Nedd, Peter Frefricks, Chris Hopkinson and Lelon Jackman.
Guyana Times also viewed secured video evidence of the injuries sustained by the men following the incident.
The whistleblower said that no doctor or nurse was called in to provide assistance to the men who are experiencing continued discomfort.
Homeless persons from across Guyana are housed at the Centre, which has separate dorms for males and females, a kitchen, recreational, medical, training and dining facilities and conference rooms.