In The Villages, frontline workers locked out of pool, clubhouse

Ella Walter Maricopa
Ella Walter, 9, checks out the pool from outside the fence on Monday afternoon at The Villages of Rancho El Dorado. Photo by Merenzi Young / Eye of Odin Studios

Heather Walter and her husband, Ryan, have been working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic for months.

Both work at the same Phoenix-area hospital; she is a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit, and he is a respiratory therapist in the ICU. Their work requires them to be in close proximity to care for patients with the virus.

The Walters have four children – aged 9, 7, 4 and 2 – and they work opposite shifts to ensure one of them is always home. One of the kids’ favorite summer activities is swimming in one of the community pools at The Villages at Rancho El Dorado, where the family lives. Typically, they are at the pool five days a week, including weekends, Heather said.

Not this summer.

The family finds itself on the outside looking in, locked out of the pool by the Villages HOA, because the couple has been exposed to coronavirus through their ICU work and refuses to sign a document agreeing to hold harmless the HOA and related parties for all COVID-19 claims.

As a result, the HOA deactivated the keycard that admits the family to the pools, the splash pad, the clubhouse and other amenities.

Heather said the children are paying the price, especially after a trying few months with the COVID-19 stay at home order.

“Their lives have been turned upside down,” Heather, 37, said. “We’re basically stuck at home.”

NO WAIVER OR REDUCTION OF DUES

The issue came up when the HOA required all residents to complete a “Health Screening Confirmation and Waiver and Release of Liability for Access to Common Areas” as a requirement to access the clubhouse, pools and fitness center.

The letter asked residents to acknowledge that no members of the household:

  • Had any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Were under quarantine after testing positive for the virus.
  • Had tested positive, had close contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus, or traveled internationally or on a cruise.

The letter asks residents to abide by social distancing rules, recommends face masks in common areas, and use of hand sanitizer and hand washing before and after using amenities.

Residents are then asked to accept a “Waiver and Release of Liability” that states: “I hereby assume all of the risks associated with COVID-19, including without limitation, related exposure, contamination, and infection in connection with any and all use within and around the common areas….”

It asks residents to “agree to indemnify and hold harmless the following entities or persons for all claims of liability arising out of or related to COVID-19 in consideration for being permitted to use/access the common areas: the association and its members, agents, directors, officers, employees, volunteers, vendors, representatives, or affiliated persons’ or entities (released persons.)”

And then, in bold: “Participant hereby requests the association to provide participant with access to the common areas regardless of the inherent risk of contracting COVID-19 within the common areas.”

The Walters knew they had been exposed through their hospital work and answered truthfully.

“We cannot possibly be the only healthcare providers in the Villages, I just happen to be honest,” she said.

Refusal to sign the HOA document would mean no more visiting the pool or the clubhouse with their kids. They refused anyway on principle.

So, they inquired about a waiver or reduction of their $285 quarterly dues.

No waiving of the fee and no reduction, the HOA told her, according to Walter.

InMaricopa.com contacted the local HOA office for comment on the situation on Friday, but community manager Diane Zavala did not return the call. Associated Asset Management (AAM), a Tempe-based company, provides management services to the HOA at The Villages.

Heather Walter Family
Heather Walter is surrounded by her four children – from left, Ella, 9; Eden, 4; Ensley, 2; and Emilee, 7. Residents of The Villages at Rancho El Dorado, Heather and her husband, Ryan, are working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic at a Phoenix-area hospital. Photo by Merenzi Young / Eye of Odin Studios

VIOLATION OF HIPAA?

Walter said she called Zavala on Wednesday to ask about the family’s predicament. Zavala told her the HOA’s Board of Directors was planning to discuss the situation in executive session during its regular meeting the next day.

Early Friday morning, Walter emailed Zavala to ask what the board decided. In an emailed response, Zavala told her the board didn’t discuss the matter on Thursday but would “revisit your matter” at the next executive session set for June 24.

“In the meantime, can you please share more detail about yours and your husband’s frequency of the exposure to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19?” Zavala asked in the email.

“Because the waiver calls for within the past 2 weeks, if there is a period where you/husband have not been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19, with the necessary precautions and signed form you/husband can use the amenities,” Zaval continued. “I believe the association is relying on you as good citizen and responsible frontline worker to limit your visits and amenity activity when you/ husband see necessary based upon your exposure AND allow yourself a two week of rest time prior to reusing the amenities.”

The HOA board, which is led by Tony Crisostomo, thinks it can do whatever it wants, said another Villages resident and frontline worker who faces the same lockout situation.

An employee at a facility where he has been in contact with coronavirus, he was also asked to sign the waiver, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity because his employer forbids its workers from speaking to the media.

“The whole waiver thing is against HIPAA,” he said, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, a federal law protecting sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

“We’re expected to pay dues even though we can’t use the amenities,” he said.