‘Pastor’ asked to leave Rehab Center

Omar Calleja says he was only talking to patients about hope



A Key West man who identifies himself as a pastor was asked to leave Key West Health and Rehabilitation Center last month after the facility’s administrator determined he had photographed elderly and infirm residents and disrupted staff, the administrator told KonkLife.

Omar Calleja, who said he was ordained a minister at a West Palm Beach church several years ago, said he was doing only what he’s been doing for several months: Playing music for residents and talking to them about hope.

“There was no Bible reading, no teaching of the word, just how are you doing today, hon,” Calleja told KonkLife.”I was just providing that humane touch that all humans need.”

However, Calleja admits, he took photographs of the small group of residents who joined his music time, which upset Susan Dufresne, the facility’s top administrator. Health privacy laws forbid the photographing of patients without their written consent, Dufresne said.

“This is my residents’ home and my duty is to protect their rights as citizens in their own home,” Dufresne told KonkLife. “Mr. Calleja was attempting to violate those rights and was told that his services were no longer needed in the facility.”

Calleja said he received a registered letter from Dufresne forbidding him from entering the property, which ended his music time with residents. Calleja sent a registered letter back to Dufresne asking for an explanation, but the administrator never responded, he said.

That was more than a month before he returned to the facility seeking a meeting with Dufresne on Jan.31.

“I thought maybe some issues could be resolved,” Calleja said.

Dufresne also didn’t like that Calleja removed patients from their rooms and rolled them to the second-floor dayroom where he would play music for them on his boom box.

Calleja admitted to doing that.

“No one ever had a problem with it before,” he said.

After Calleja argued with Dufresne, she called the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to force Calleja to leave the property. He said he wanted the sheriff’s office called so he could have documentation proving his ouster.

Deputies ordered Calleja off the property and issued him a trespass warning.

Dufresne also said Calleja misrepresented himself when he told her he was minister of Grace Tabernacle church in Key West, apparently a church in name only.

According to Florida Corporation Commission records, Calleja lists his nonprofit as Grace Tabernacle Inc. at 2600 Harris Ave., Key West. Google Earth images show a single-family home at that address. Calleja also lists Emerald Alvarez and Sean J. Calleja as officers of the church. The entity’s registration with the state has not been renewed since 2008 and is now inactive.

“I got tired of paying $80 a month to maintain the church’s registration,” Calleja, 75, said.

Calleja, who said he cared for residents of the former Key West Convalescent Center when it was open, also traveled to distant nursing homes to minister to residents who were forced to move when the state forced the convalescent center closed.

Churches and other volunteers have long been an important aspect of the spiritual and emotional care of residents of Key West Health and Rehabilitation, Dufresne said.

“I have several religious groups who see residents here and they all respect their rights.” She said. “Mr. Calleja was not following the rules.”

Calleja promised a court battle to regain access to patients.


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