MIDVALE, Utah — The owners of a Midvale care center are now facing criminal charges more than a year after it was shut down by the Salt Lake County Health Department.
Prosecutors say residents were found living in conditions such as sewage up to 6 inches deep in some places and a broken furnace during the winter.
Ignacio N. Gonzalez-Villarruel, 23, and Jorge Gustavo Gonzalez, Sr., 54, were each charged Wednesday in 3rd District Court with five counts of intentional financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, two second-degree felonies and three third-degree felonies; five counts of intentional abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, a class A misdemeanor; and a licensing violation that endangers people in a human services program, a class A misdemeanor.
From July 2017 through January 2022, Gonzalez owned the Ririe Care Center, or Evergreen Place, 163 E. 7800 South, and his son, Gonzalez-Villarruel, managed it, according to investigators. “Gustavo nominally conveyed ownership to Ignacio in 2019, but effectively remained in joint control of the facility with his son,” the charging documents state.
By January 2022, 17 men were living at the facility.
“Most, if not all, of these men were vulnerable adults based on various forms and levels of mental impairment,” court documents say. “According to the various observers interviewed and documents reviewed by (the lead investigator), the defendants had permitted unsafe and neglectful circumstances to continue for at least the better part of a year, despite collecting from $1,000 to $1,400 per month from each resident.”
Based on tips of deplorable conditions, Unified police, the Unified Fire Department and Salt Lake County Health Department descended on the facility on Jan. 26, 2022. Investigators discovered that the care center’s furnace had not been working for 22 days since Jan. 4.
“Although at least two space heaters were provided, one resident complained that he ‘nearly froze to death’ due to the cold,” charging documents state.
They also discovered that since Jan. 9, 2022, raw sewage had flooded the basement “and later backed up in upstairs living quarters. At one point, a resident was observed walking through sewage water in his bare feet,” the charges state.
There was one shower for 17 men, according to the charges. And typically, only one staff member worked at a time who was responsible for cooking and preparing all meals, distributing medications, doing the housekeeping and assisting with the daily living needs of all the residents.
“The inadequate staffing led to ongoing issues. In addition to the sanitation and care issues, conflicts between residents were frequent, with calls for police assistance occurring every couple of days,” according to the charges. “The most basic of residents’ daily-living needs were not addressed.”
One man was taken to a hospital emergency room because he was “covered in bed bugs” and was experiencing other medical issues, the charges allege.
“An overall lack of sanitation and hygiene was the general rule, especially in living quarters, including visibly grimy floors, filthy carpeting, dirty walls and other surfaces, overflowing trash and stained and sunken mattresses and pillows,” prosecutors state in the charges.
For one resident with mental disabilities, “for days, if not weeks, in January 2022, his room and bathroom were smeared with feces,” because of the lack of care, according to the charges.
Prosecutors also note that “no nurse or other trained, currently licensed personnel were on staff.” Family members of one resident, who is diabetic, said he was fed “cheap sugary cereal each day for breakfast” and other “things like corn dogs, Oreo cookies, ice cream sandwiches and high-carb meals,” according to the charges.
The Unified fire marshal noted nine safety code violations, including no working fire alarm system, no working smoke detectors and emergency exits were blocked or locked, court records state.
When the facility was shut down, “the residents had to go through a decontamination process that included removing all their clothing and donning disposable hazmat suits over donated clothes,” according to the charges.