Close to the Minister for Equal Opportunities, Gabriela Firea, receives tens of thousands of euros a month, public money, for the care of people with severe intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities who actually live among bedbugs and in the smell of urine and faeces. People want to leave the social care home, but the business is so well set up that even the state institutions that are supposed to help them pretend not to see the reality.
How did sick people become commodities for this money factory? Imagine a large house that can accommodate 20 people. If it is not in the middle of nowhere, such a house can be rented for a thousand or two euros a month. You pay two or three people to look after them, you pay a bit more for some food and that’s about the cost.
The state is the one who sent these people to live their lives there. It puts them out periodically by auction, by lots, or even by direct purchase. And those who are elected win them or get them directly, with the fat price the state pays to whoever takes them.
The state should also check the conditions under which they live. Only that the same state – now through the County Directorate of Social care (hereinafter called DGASPC) Ilfov – sees nothing wrong with living among the bedbugs, in misery, without basic things.
When those 20 people bring you 20,000 euros a month, then the business smells like a cannon. The money always comes in on time, without stress, and the people – deprived of defence, rights and dignity – don’t comment, because nobody listens to them anyway.
This is how they end up living full of bedbugs, “in the smell of faeces and urine” and eating from the catering only on paper – in fact some stews cooked by who knows who and how – for at least 1,100 euros a month “per head” paid by the state.
Welcome to the “Armonia” social care home, the first contact of the Saint Gabriel the Brave Association – behind which are Ligia Enache and Stefan Godei, close to the couple of masters of Ilfov Pandele-Firea – with the business of sick and poor people, but also with the big money from the state.
They also make good money in Pipera, Voluntari, but on contract to the subordinates of the Firea-Pandele couple’s godson, Robert Negoiță, as the Media Investigation Centre (CIM) and Buletin de București revealed last week.
The Firea-Pandele family’s henchmen set up their association in December 2020, and in March 2021 they licensed it as a “social service provider”, the first step towards the holy grail of thousands of euros a month from the state. They don’t even have time to do the second one, i.e. to license their “social service” idyllically called “Armonia” Care and Assistance Centre (CIA), because the money starts flowing.
Most likely illegally.
It’s Wednesday, September 7, after noon. A group of five representatives of the Centre for Legal Resources (CRJ) are standing in front of the house at number 36A on the Bucharest – Urziceni road, somewhere in Afumați, waiting for the door to open. They want to pay an unannounced visit to the social care home for people with disabilities here, but are told through the fence that they can’t enter until the boss comes.
The only employee at the social care home – which now cares for 32 people, most of them with severe intellectual and/or psyhcosocial disabilties – is persuaded to at least let them into the yard.
The more than ten of the social care home’s beneficiaries sitting outside on old furniture or makeshift benches made from pallets are happy to see new faces.
A brand new Mercedes GLE SUV with red number plates, worth at least €120,000, brakes in the dirt on the side of the “road to Moldova” and parks in front of the house in Afumați.
A mountain of a man rushes down from it, who immediately enters the yard and starts screaming. It is Stefan Godei, the “head” of the private social care home here, with whom the CRJ monitors had spoken on the phone just a few dozen minutes before, after visiting the “Saint Gabriel the Brave” social care home in Pipera, Voluntari, which he is also in charge of, as president of the association with the same name of the saint who does not exist.
“He sounded like a different man from the one I had just spoken to on the phone. Then he was calm, he answered our questions, he understood what was going on with us, now he was really out of his mind by our presence at this second social care homeof his”, Georgiana Pascu, programme manager at the CRJ and leader of the team that came to monitor the house in Afumați, tells reporters from the Media Investigation Centre (CIM) and Buletin de București.
The CRJ monitors are visiting under a protocol with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The protocol allows them to make unannounced visits to all places where people with mental disabilities are kept, to check how their rights are respected.
The protocol is concluded on 9 January 2020, for a period of two years, but states in the same article, six, that it is tacitly renewable unless expressly denounced. Godei does not recognise the validity of the document and shouts at the people to get out of “his yard” immediately.
Frightened by the screams of the imposing man in front of them, who was insistently asking them to leave the yard, the CRJs called 112 and called the police, complaining that they were not allowed access for the unannounced visit to which they are entitled, according to the protocol which, for Godei, is expired.
Within a few dozen minutes, a police car appears outside the gate. The IPJ Ilfov crew tries to settle the conflict, but the policeman is overwhelmed by the situation and cannot find the arguments to convince Godei to allow the CRJ monitors access to the social care home.
After more than two hours of parliament, the CRJ team leaves without gathering much information from the more than 30 people held there.
However, the policeman records the situation and registers the complaint of the CRJs, who complain that they are not allowed to do their job. He also receives several other complaints, from the bravest of the beneficiaries, who claim they are there against their will and that they do not want to stay in this social care home which, they say, does not offer them humane conditions.
On the morning of Monday, 24 October 2022, Silviu Duță, a young 37-year-old beneficiary of the social care home with an intellectuan disability and epilepsy, wakes up from sleep with blood in his mouth. He had been in agony for several days; the doctor had seen him the week before and found that he was not well at all. He couldn’t swallow anything, not even pills. Some damn disease is about to take him.
A few hours later, towards evening, the young man dies.
A week later, on 1 November, the CRJ monitors appear again at the gate of the house in Afumați. They present a brand-new protocol, freshly concluded with the Monitoring Council, the state institution that should do exactly what they do, i.e. check, on the spot, whether the rights of those in such social care homes are respected.
After a few minutes of arguing with the nurse on duty, they are allowed access, but only after Stefan Godei, the head of the social care home, shows up to carefully check the new protocol, as well as the police, who are called in again by the JRC, because again they are not allowed access, at least at first.
The reason given now by Stefan Godei, who had seen on the surveillance cameras, from a distance, that the CRJ team is again at the gate? “Until the other complaints are resolved, no one enters the social care home!”, Godei sent through the employee on the other side of the fence, CRJ activists say.
What is Stefan Godei hiding after all?
From the first moment the YRC monitors step into the social care home – because they do eventually get in – they are effectively hit by a strong smell of faeces and urine.
“Throughout the social care home there was a strong smell of faeces and urine. (…) And inside, but even in the courtyard, a disgusting smell of urine prevails, permeating everywhere,” the CRJ monitors write in the visit report.
This is the smell in which 32 people have to wake up and go to bed, day after day.
As soon as they get over the stench shock, the representatives of the JRC realise they have an even bigger problem: the whole social care home is infested with bedbugs, “and from the extent of the infestation, one could conclude that the problem is an old one”.
After a simple look in the house where the beneficiaries are confined, the CRJ monitors realise that the invasion of bedbugs is not a surprise. There is damp everywhere and mould on the walls. The two bathrooms in the social care home, which all 32 people use, are “extremely dirty” and have no working plumbing.
In one of the bathrooms, the shower looks rather makeshift, with a hose hanging from a battery in the wall. In the second, the toilet doesn’t work – you can’t flush it – so it’s terribly dirty.
Beneficiaries do not receive basic personal hygiene products such as toilet paper, towels or soap. Employees at the social care home claim that these are only provided on request, but the JRC has not identified any place where personal hygiene products would be stored.
Things are no better in the bedrooms. Besides the ubiquitous bedbugs swarming the walls and mattresses, people in the Armonia social care home sleep on dirty sheets. This is in the “lucky” cases, because some of the beneficiaries don’t have sheets at all, they sleep directly on the infected mattresses full of insects.
Catering’ food, only on paper
During the monitoring visit, the CRJ team was presented with a catering contract: the contract is with the same company as at the St Gabriel the Brave Social Care Home in Pipera, SC Mititei la Tomiță.
However, the contract is atypical: it does not contain any concrete reference to a sum of money, even a minimum one, that the beneficiary, the Association of Saint Gabriel the Brave, undertakes to pay to this supplier.
“We found it strange, because at the other social care home Mr Godei is in charge of, the one in Pipera, we were told that part of the food is cooked here, in Afumați, and here we were told that it is not cooked, presenting us with a contract with the same supplier as over there”, Georgiana Pascu told reporters after her visit to the “Armonia” social care home.
Intrigued, she tried to clarify the story of the food, especially as it concerned not only the 32 beneficiaries here in Afumați, but also the other 27 in Pipera.
“Something was clearly wrong: there were large quantities of food in the fridge – dozens of hot dogs in the fridge, meat in the freezer, a bag of potatoes and a bag of onions, for example – even though we had been told that they don’t cook here for the beneficiaries, but that they receive ready-made food from the caterers. The explanation for those quantities of food was either that they belonged to the employees or that they were cooked, but for the employees who stay here overnight, although we were not told that there were people working here overnight…”, Pascu recounts.
In addition, it was already past 1pm and the caterers had stopped coming, even though lunch was scheduled, on paper, for 12.30pm.
“Sometime around 1.30pm, two pots of food appeared in the dirty kitchen on the ground floor of the social care home, which CRJ had visited earlier, without anyone having entered the social care home’s gate. We were told that this was the food brought by the catering company: there were two pots of soup,” says Pascu.
But the reality – Georgiana Pascu was to find out from face-to-face discussions with those present – was different and confirmed her suspicions.
“We found out that the food had actually been cooked there. It was on fire when we came to the gate, that’s why they didn’t let us in right away, so they had time to clean up in the kitchen and hide the pots in a cupboard they had locked. They cook there, even though they don’t have the authorisation to do so”, said Georgiana Pascu, leader of the team of monitors of the CRJ.
Invented catering, invented services
As at the other social care home of the St Gabriel the Brave association in Pipera, there are no specialists at Armonia, although the state pays almost 1,200 euros a month for half of the beneficiaries, this time through DGASPC Ilfov.
For the other people here, either public money is paid, but through the town halls of the Ilfov area, or private money, from families who cannot care for their elderly and send them to a nursing home.
“From the findings, it did not appear that the staff would be sufficient and properly trained to manage the needs of the beneficiaries,” the CRJ monitors write in the visit report.
On their first visit to the social care home, from which they could not understand much, the CRJs found only one employee who was looking after all 32 beneficiaries, but who, just as the CRJs entered, was cleaning the dining room, so it was not clear what exactly he was doing.
On the second visit, in addition to the same employee, who appeared to have more of an administrative function, there was another nurse on duty. Another lady social worker came to the social care home shortly after being called and informed of the visit of the CRJ, together with another lady, a psychologist.
“Regarding the input of medical staff in the social care social care homes visited, the information provided at the time of the visit indicated that the residents did not receive regular and consistent psychological, social work, psychiatric and somatic care,” the CRJ monitors write in the report.
Discussions CRJ staff had with the beneficiaries revealed that they actually had no activity all day and that most had not left the social care home since they arrived there.
“As far as the daily regime is concerned, it was not observed that there is a range of occupational and recreational activities offered to the residents, but activities of an infantilising nature, such as drawing or singing songs like an elephant. (…) The main part of the activity seemed to be sitting in the yard or in bed,” the CRJs write in the cited report.
Under the law, beneficiaries have the right to be informed and presented with several options for choosing where to live. But this has not been the case for those who have ended up being locked up, against their will, in the social care home on Urziceni Road, which is why they have complained repeatedly, saying essentially that they want to go elsewhere.
“Complaints have been received in the Care and Assistance Centre for Adults with Disabilities “Armonia” that the head of the social care home is holding them against their will,” the report from the Centre for Legal Resources says.
But complaints are not encouraged at Armonia.
On the first visit of the CLR, for example, one of the residents made a complaint to the DGASPC Ilfov, right in front of the police officers called here, clearly stating that she did not want to live there.
In November, at the second visit, the nurse burst out and, in front of the CRJ monitors, reproached the same beneficiary, almost scolding her: “All this [the checks n.r.] happens because of you!”.
During the same visit, the monitors spoke to a resident who complained to the CRJ that since she had been “forced” to come to this social care home where harmony is found only in name, she had been several times tied by the hands and feet. “Restrained”, in the parlance of the experts. The woman now sleeps on a metal bed, directly on a mattress, with no underwear and no pillow, covered only with a blanket. Both the mattress and the blanket were dirty and included small, brownish stains, possibly blood stains from bedbug pinches.
These are the conditions to which those who want to leave the house of those close to Minister Firea are subjected, but fail.
“The living conditions in the “Armonia” social care home are degrading”, the CRJ monitors conclude in the report.
Degrading, but also illegal?
For this nightmare that people live here to be total, they arrived in the “Armonia” home following a contract that seems to be concluded illegally in the summer of 2021.
In the first official response received from the DGASPC Ilfov to questions about the deal with the invented saint, the director of the institution, Bogdan Iulian Pîntea, claims to have awarded the contract to the association in 2022.
Given that the document previously obtained by reporters showed that DGASPC Ilfov had given the people gravitating around the Firea-Pandele couple the contract in June 2021, we asked for clarification.
The Ilfov Social Welfare Directorate said there had been a “drafting error” and confirmed that it had in fact signed the contract in 2021. Except that, at that time, the Association “Saint Gabriel the Brave” did not have a licensed care and assistance social care home that could accommodate these people. Hence the suspicion of illegality, because without a licence such a social care home cannot operate, and the licence for the Harmony social care home was not obtained until July 2022, i.e. a year later.
Were beneficiaries accommodated in the unlicensed social care home in Afumați although the law clearly prohibits this?
In the second answer, DGASPC Ilfov says no, claiming that people would have been taken first to the social care home in Pipera, licensed in 2021, shortly after signing the contract.
Except that director Pîntea is lying.
In an addendum to the 7 June 2021 contract obtained by reporters, it says in black and white that “social services (provided under the contract, editor’s note) will be provided at the Armonia Care and Assistance social care home for People with Disabilities in Șoseaua București-Urziceni 36 A”.
But the funny thing is that, in article 5.5 of the contract, the “contracting authority”, i.e. DGASPC Ilfov, undertakes to take back its people within 48 hours if the partner in the contract, i.e. the St. Gabriel the Brave Association, loses its license.
A license that the association does not actually have at the time of signing the contract.
The defiance becomes total by the content of Article 6.2: “The provider (St Gabriel the Brave, n.r.) guarantees that it meets all legal conditions to provide the contracted social services: accreditations, authorisations, licensing.”
So Godei guaranteed what he didn’t have, then signed and the money started coming in.
However, in 2022, the good collaboration between DGASPC Ilfov and the association of Minister Gabriela Firea’s people takes the form of a new contract, signed on 27.04.2022. The object of the contract is the same as the first one, “the provision of residential social services to adults with disabilities living in Ilfov County”.
The document guarantees Godei a stable income from public money until 30.04.2023.
Moreover, through another additional act signed at the end of 2022, a few days before Christmas, the price paid for each beneficiary increases from 5571 lei to 6694 lei.
That means even more money for the association that keeps dozens of sick people locked up among bedbugs and faeces.
DGASPC Ilfov’s total collusion with the invented Saint Gabriel
The CRJ insisted that the DGASPC Ilfov send an employee in charge of relations with these social care homes to observe the inhuman conditions in which the beneficiaries live their days. Răzvan Țicu, the head of the service that manages the problems of adults with disabilities, came, saw it and said he didn’t find it serious at all.
According to Țicu, these people are better off at “Armonia” than “sleeping on the street”. They have a roof over their heads and that’s enough, “all the more so because the beneficiaries have mental illnesses and have no other options”.
“He told us these things and it really shocked us,” said Georgiana Pascu after the visit.
Why does the man from DGASPC Ilfov see reality so crookedly? Perhaps because the social care home’s social worker, Ramona Nicolae, is his colleague at DGASPC Ilfov, the institution that sent the social care home’s beneficiaries here, that pays for the private business “Armonia” and that should check whether those for whom it pays big money every month are treated fairly, humanely.
“Ramona Nicolae is a social worker in the Centre for Emergency Intervention in the field of social assistance, situations of abuse, neglect, trafficking, migration, repatriation, domestic violence and ‘social phone’ of DGASPC Ilfov, information confirmed during the visit even by her”, write the CRJ in the report.
This quality of Ramona Nicolae is, by the way, also public: you can find it in this table at position 31.
Although she has been working at DGASPC Ilfov since 2019, Ramona Nicolae has stated that she does not consider herself in any situation of incompatibility or conflict of interest.
Ramona Nicolae even had the nerve to come with the DGASPC service car to the Armonia social care home, once called by the people from there after the unexpected arrival of the CRJ.
It is, of course, okay for someone who works for the institution that is supposed to monitor the work of the private partners with whom the Directorate has contracts to also work for one of the private social care homes it is supposed to control.
Or not. In the Code of Ethics of the DGASPC Ilfov, in article 5, it is written that social assistance employees in Ilfov “have a legal, moral and professional duty to ensure that they comply strictly with the legal regime of conflict of interest and incompatibilities”.
The irregularities discovered by the CRJ but denied by the DGASPC Ilfov were also reported to the National Agency for Payments and Social Inspection (ANPIS). From the social care home, the complaint was sent to the territory, i.e. to the employees of Ilfov, the Firea-Pandele fiefdom, who proceeded to control.
“From the discussions held with the selected beneficiaries, it appears that they are satisfied with the social services offered by the residential social care home and have not reported any forms of abuse or exploitation”, came, promptly, the response of AJPIS Ilfov.
However, the CRJ made it clear in its submission to AJPIS that at least two beneficiaries, a man and a woman, have declared their wish to go anywhere, only not to stay in the house in Afumați.
Somehow obliged to clarify these specific cases, the AJPIS Ilfov chose not to discuss with the man, on the grounds that he is under interdiction due to mental disorders. However, they asked the social care home to talk to his guardian, a relative who, for various reasons, obviously did not want him back home.
They spoke with the woman, she also claimed in front of them that she wanted to leave, but her case was quickly passed on by AJPIS Ilfov: “the social services provided to the beneficiary (…) are subject to an agreement concluded by the association (St. Gabriel the Brave, n.r. ) with the DGASPC Ilfov, which ensures payment”, and “the representatives of the social care home have found, over time, that the beneficiary oscillates in her statements, depending on her mental or emotional mood, showing changes from one day to the next in terms of interest in staying in the social care home or leaving”. Under these circumstances, AJPIS Ilfov “ordered” Godei “to be informed about the resolution of the beneficiary’s request”.
This means that Godei, the owner of the social care home from which the woman wants to leave and the one who receives 1,300 euros a month, more or less for nothing, for her care, should also be the one who decides her fate.
Money in piles, money out
CIA Armonia is not for the first “brand” under which this home in Afumați hosts people in need of care.
Before CIA Armonia, the same house was home to a home for the elderly called “Grandparents’ House”. Also owned by Godei, but under a company: Creativ Home Concept SRL.
On 22 November 2019, the company with Godei as sole shareholder signs a contract with the owners of the house in Afumați and opens a business there. Creativ Home Concept’s business flourishes quickly. In just three years, sole shareholder Godei reaches a turnover exceeding one million lei.
“From the information received, it would appear that two social services have operated or are still operating in the same premises. With regard to the Old People’s Home “Grandparents’ House”, it is mentioned in the register “Old People’s Homes licensed on 26.07.2021 (social service code 8730 CR-V-I)”, as having an operating license from 2021 valid for five years, but we do not know if this social service provider is still operating in this premises or not”, the CRJs claim in the report.
Information received by CIM and Buletin de București reporters from DGASPC Ilfov solves the mystery: there is also a nursing home and a care and assistance social care home at 36A Șoseaua Urziceni, both owned by Godei. Or at least that was the case in the spring of 2022, when the DGASPC signed on the same day, 27 April, contracts for the provision of social services with Creativ Home Concept SRL, the old people’s home, as well as with the St Gabriel the Brave Association, for the CIA Armonia.
This – that is to stay mixed up – would be “deeply illegal and harmful for both categories of beneficiaries alike”, says Georgiana Pascu from CRJ in her discussion with reporters.
Rich man, poor man
If at the first visit of the CRJ to “Armonia”, on 7 September, Stefan Godei got out, thundering and flashing, of a 120,000 euro Mercedes, at the second visit of the CRJ team, on 1 November, the same Godei seemed a different man. Dressed much more modestly and getting out of a normal car, he now appeared to be playing the betrayed man card in the partnership with DGASPC Ilfov.
All the problems found by the CRJs in the Armonia social care home, which he has tried so hard to hide, are caused – he says – by the delays with which DGASPC Ilfov, his main partner here at this second social care home of the St Gabriel the Brave Association, pays his bills.
“Don’t bother, ma’am, with reports and complaints, because we’ll close in a month anyway, because we don’t have the money to pay anything, the DGASPC hasn’t paid us for more than six months,” Georgiana Pascu, the leader of the CRJ team, tells Godei at the second meeting.
The institution that pays on two contracts for the beneficiaries of the “Armonia” house, however, blatantly contradicts him. “Payments to suppliers are up to date,” writes an official response sent to reporters from the Media Investigation Centre (CIM) and Buletin de București by DGASPC Ilfov.
For example, in October, i.e. just the month before the second visit made by CRJ, Godei would have received almost 95,000 lei from DGASPC. For the six months in which Godei would have “cared” for the beneficiaries for free, as he says, the association he leads would have actually collected almost 100,000 euros just on CIA Armonia. Plus what he “pinched” on the old people’s home.
It is not clear how many people died in the house in Afumați when it was a home for the elderly and how many after it became a care and assistance centre (CIA) for people with disabilities.
“What is essential is the considerable number of deaths that occurred in this social care home and the fact that, from the information received, it does not appear that these deaths were notified to the competent authorities, although the causes of their occurrence required a referral,” the CRJ says in the visit report.
Reactions. Or, more precisely, non-reactions
We called Stefan Godei, president of the St Gabriel the Brave Association, to find out more about the work of the CIA Armonia. He didn’t answer, but called back a few minutes later. When the reporter declined to identify himself and told him what he wanted to know from him, Godei apologised, impatiently saying he was “with the baby in hospital”, then hung up the phone.
After another few minutes, Godei called again on the mobile phone he had used to talk to the reporter just a few minutes earlier. He quickly realized he had called a different number than he wanted and hung up the phone. He was in a car, judging by the background noise in the few seconds this second call lasted. We returned, but he didn’t answer.
His brother, Dan Godei, is, formally, the head of CIA Harmony. We called him, he answered, but after we told him who we were and what we wanted, he excused himself by saying he was home and with his family for dinner, then hung up the phone. We called him again, but he didn’t answer.
Ligia Gheorghe, the eternal right-hand woman of Equal Opportunities Minister Gabriela Firea and vice-president of the Gabriel the Brave Association that operates the CIA Armonia, did not answer the phone. I sent him a message on whatsapp telling him that we wanted to discuss the work of this social care home. She still replied to us, in a message, with exactly the same words that the spokesperson of the Ministry of Equal Opportunities, where Ligia Gheorghe is an advisor to Minister Gabriela Firea, had told us a week ago: “I resigned as Vice President of the Board of Directors of the association in March 2022. I should point out that it was an unpaid position”.
I came back with a new message, conveying that resignations from the associations’ board of directors must be validated by the court, as they represent changes to the constitutive acts. I asked him for the number of the court decision confirming the resignation.
Ligia Gheorghe replied, telling us that she does not consider herself responsible for the way the association “acted in this case”.
“What I know for sure is that I have resigned, as I told you”, Ligia Gheorghe concluded in her message, without being able to present the court decision, without which her resignation, even if it formally existed in the organisation’s scriptures, would have no more value than the sheet of paper on which it is written.
A week ago, CIM reporters and Buletin de București published an investigation into another social care home operated by the St Gabriel the Brave Association, which can be read here. Faced with the same response as the one we have now received from Ligia Gheorghe, after consulting a lawyer, we wrote that we had checked whether Ligia Gheorghe had really resigned from her leadership position in the association. I found on the court portal a lawsuit in which the association was indeed asking for a modification of the constitutive act, in February 2022 (not in March, as Ligia Gheorghe now claims). However, after studying the decision, I realised that it is only a question of changing the address of the registered office, and there is no mention of the composition of the original board of directors, with Ligia Gheorghe as vice-president.
SUMMARY and FULL REPORT available here: https://www.crj.ro/en/monitoring-report-2/