Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series chronicling a former resident and housekeeper at America’s Best Value Inn in Geneva.
It is no surprise that once Rebecca España started making waves and became a whistle-blower, her housekeeping days at America’s Best Value Inn were cut from seven days per week to zero.
After talking to her last week about the alleged conditions there, I headed to the Department of Social Services on Seneca Street, where I was told to contact Eileen Tiberio, Ontario County Commissioner of Social Services. I requested an email response for the DSS regulations and guidelines for motels/hotels housing DSS clients.
There are multiple pages: 18 CRR-NY 352.3 OFFICIAL COMPILATION OF CODES, RULES AND REGULATIONS OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK TITLE 18. DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES.
Of particular note from those regulations:
• Rooms shall be cleaned at least every other day by hotel/motel staff.
According to Rebecca, hotel staff did not clean them any day.
• All mattresses and bedding material shall be clean. Each bed shall have at least two clean sheets, adequate clean blankets, clean pillows and pillowcases. A complete change of linens shall be made by hotel/motel staff at least once a week and more often where individual circumstances warrant or when a new family occupies the unit. Each unit shall be supplied with towels, soap and toilet tissues. A clean towel shall be provided daily to each resident.
Rebecca alleges that the linens and towels are never switched out.
• Local social services districts which make hotel/motel referral must inspect at least once every six months the hotels/motels in which families are placed. In addition to verifying that the hotel/motel meets the requirements set forth in subdivision (g) of this section, the local district shall make appropriate inquiries to determine whether the hotel/motel is in compliance with all applicable State and local laws, regulations, codes and ordinances. Any violation found during the on-site inspection shall be reported to appropriate authorities. Further, each inspection shall at least review arrangements for hygiene, vermin control, security, furnishings, cleanliness and maintenance and shall include a review of any applicable documents pertaining to compliance with any local laws or codes.
I reached out to America’s Best Value Inn by phone and asked about the DSS guidelines. The owner told me he is aware of them and follows them. He added, “We give them supplies, whatever they need.” He also said that last week — the very same day I reached out to DSS — the Geneva Housing Authority came to inspect. I later found out GHA was contracted out by DSS to perform these inspections.
As for the inspection, Tiberio later responded with simply, “It passed.”
I followed up with this question: “Then what is your standard for passing?” And, I asked to see the inspection report. After all, Rebecca — remember, she worked there — said the bed coverings have not been cleaned in months/years; towels, sheets or pillow cases are not switched out daily/weekly, leaving residents to wash their own linens; and the motel doesn’t provide housekeeping as mandated.
Tiberio didn’t give a definition of any standard, nor include the report, in the email she sent around 5 p.m. last Friday. An email informed me she was going to be out of the office until Sept. 23.
I spoke to Andrew Tyman, CEO of the Geneva Housing Authority. He is well-respected, reputable guy. He told me a Housing Authority inspector was sent to inspect Rooms 118 and 119 at America’s Best Value Inn; the latter room was Rebecca’s. It was an unannounced visit. Rebecca was at work.
Tyman said both rooms appeared fine through a visual inspection. Tyman went on to say the inspector doesn’t roll back covers to look at sheets for cleanliness. Their purpose is to ensure the basics are in place. He added that if a resident is there he or she will be asked if they are happy with things.
The main issues — are the towels replaced daily, are sheets and pillow cases being switched out weekly, is housecleaning offering to clean the rooms every other day — remained unaddressed because they can’t be determined by a visual inspection. Only a face-to-face conversation with a resident would reveal that. It seems clear DSS didn’t communicate with GHA that these issues were the impetus for that day’s ad hoc inspection.
Tyman did say the motel is required to provide those amenities. If they don’t, they are in violation of DSS guidelines.
While Rebecca has moved out of the motel, I received word yesterday the family that moved into her room took their infant son to the doctor with an issue they believe is tied to the state of the room.
When Tyman was made aware of this he seemed genuinely concerned and recommended that DSS residents contact the Department of Health to report mold or other bacterial issues.
This whole situation makes me wonder if DSS is more concerned about having the motel pass inspection rather than the health and safety of the people staying there.
It should be noted that Tripadvisor has received many comments about America’s Best Value Inn in Geneva. Keep in mind these comments are for the maintained rooms offered to travelers. Of the 142 comments rating the motel, a whopping 86 rated it terrible and another 14 called it poor.
Ultimately, it was Rebecca España who risked her job and her housing to stand up and have her voice heard. I hope someone is listening. These are human beings living in what some might consider inhumane conditions.