Calistoga vice mayor faces elder abuse charges


Lopez-Ortega, his lawyer and members of his family have refused interviews with The Press Democrat.

Lopez-Ortega is an iconic immigrant achievement, which has been featured in publications on both sides of the US-Mexico border, including Calistoga Living (where she made an appearance in June) and El Universal Oaxaca.

Lopez-Ortega was born and raised in the Oaxaca city of Huajuapan de León, the daughter of a taxi driver and a housewife, and the eldest of 16 children. She survived an abusive marriage and arrived in America without immigration papers in her mid-twenties. She worked two or three jobs at a time in the Bay Area, largely to support her brother, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3.

One of those jobs was the cleaning of a retirement home in San Francisco. One day, Lopez-Ortega took over as a caregiver and, as the story goes, never started cleaning again. She eventually earned a nursing assistant certificate and a medical assistant degree from Empire College in Santa Rosa, according to

Lopez-Ortega started working at Cedars in 2014, hired by longtime licensee Laura Sherwood.

Sherwood chose her words carefully in a phone interview with The Press Democrat, but became more enthusiastic when she described her colleague.

“I would love to talk to you about Irais,” she said. “I would like to talk to you about how Cedars really expanded their services and revamped their program of activities when they took over. How delighted and satisfied I am with his handling of the Cedars, especially during our devastating fire seasons. (Residents have been evacuated at least twice.) How excited I am with his handling of the pandemic and the challenges associated with it.

Sherwood said she did not view the surveillance video cited by investigators.

“I would like to understand better what happened,” she said. “Because his caregiving experience before that, I think that speaks for itself. “

Lopez-Ortega was appointed to Calistoga City Council to fill a vacant position in 2013, then elected to a council seat in 2016 and 2020. She is the second person of Latino descent to hold the position in Calistoga. The first, Placido Garcia-Hernandez, is as shocked as anyone by the recent revelations.

“For me, I am very proud of her,” said Garcia-Hernandez, who is now in his 47th year of working and managing the vineyards of Chateau Montelena. “I can’t believe she could do something like this, really. I heard, and I thought maybe it was a different Irais. Only the courts will decide. For me, I can’t believe.

Lopez-Ortega has not stepped down from government office. She attended remote council meetings on October 19 and November 2, after the Napa Valley Register first reported the allegations against her.

“As for continuing to serve, she has the right to do so,” said Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning, who praised Lopez-Ortega, emphasizing his volunteerism and hard work. on water education. “She has not made a commitment to terminate her service when she is entitled to due process.”

But Lopez-Ortega no longer works with seniors. The Department of Social Services issued an exclusion order against her, requiring her to step down from her duties as a caregiver at Cedars.

The state also canceled her license to L&B Care Home, a smaller facility that Lopez-Ortega had opened at her Calistoga home in 2017. (The DSS previously cited her for running the site without a license in 2013.) five elderly people living at L&B were removed. and transferred to other facilities over a two week period in August.

Something that continues to bother Lord: One of Lopez-Ortega’s daughters took over as manager at Cedars. The DSS said through a representative that Lopez-Ortega’s replacement only had to meet standard requirements for proof of criminal record and experience.

“I am delighted with the staff we have currently working there,” said Sherwood when asked about the handover. “And now I have complete confidence with the people who work at Cedars.”

Calistoga resident Marcey Smith knows both Cedars and L&B, as her sister Rosalie lived in both of them. Smith describes Lopez-Ortega as kind, understanding, and adept at dealing with difficult patients – like her sister. Rosalie suffers from dementia and is prone to verbal outbursts. Smith said there was nothing in Lopez-Ortega’s work to make him believe his sister was in danger.

“I visited almost once a week for five years and never saw anything happening,” Smith said.

Ponsford’s reputation may further complicate matters. He has been separated from his two children for several years, his son Craig Ponsford, a prominent North Bay baker, told The Press Democrat. Some call it harsh or combative, traits that have intensified as the dementia progresses.

“There is a history of difficult behavior that was escalating and that was reported by Ms. Lopez to attending physicians trying to get help. … Trying to offer him medical treatment or a better placement, ”his lawyer, Douglas Pharr of Napa, told Judge Ortiz at a hearing on Friday. “But he was getting out of hand. It wasn’t working where it was. And she was making an effort to try to solve this problem, and not getting much help. “

Finneran sees Ponsford in a more positive light.

“I wouldn’t say combative. But he liked people who knew what they were talking about, ”Finneran said. “And he was impatient with people. I’ve heard some things where he lost his temper in meetings, and probably shouldn’t have. One thing I do remember, however. I know who he got mad at and I understand why he did it.

However, none of this darkens Finneran’s respect or affection for Lopez-Ortega. He has seen her in town for the past few weeks and feels her personal pain.

“It’s like a big chunk of sadness,” Finneran said. “Nobody really knows what happened – just Irais and Terry, with his dementia. And he probably doesn’t even remember it.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or On Twitter @Skinny_Post.