Dunedin rest home manager censured for 'sex robot' comments

File photo: Getty
The two student nurses were removed from the rest home after one of them complained to their polytechnic about Sobrevilla's behaviour. File photo: Getty
"I’m not being creepy or a paedo," Michael Sobrevilla insisted to a student nurse he later asked to provide him with a picture of her face so he could use it as reference for a sex robot.

The rest home manager also told one of two students they were flirting with him, he wanted to wax her arms and that when he was older, he would like a prostitute to entertain him.

"Will you be my pimp?" Sobrevilla asked one of those students after that conversation, to which she replied, "No."

Sobrevilla also told one of the students, who were stationed at the rest home for four weeks as part of their studies through Otago Polytechnic, he liked blondes and would like to take her home

After this last comment, one of Sobrevilla’s colleagues told him he sounded like a "sleazy old man". One of the students complained to the polytechnic and they were both removed from the placement.

The events of 2022 at the Dunedin rest home were then referred to the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, which held a hearing earlier this year and today opted to censure Sobrevilla, fine him $5000 and forbid him from acting as a preceptor (teacher) for one year after finding him guilty of professional misconduct.

The tribunal refused to grant Sobrevilla ongoing name suppression but suppressed the name of his employer, as well as the names of the two students.

In the course of the investigation into Sobrevilla’s conduct, it was revealed five years earlier in 2017, he had told a caregiver at the rest home he wanted to see her in a bikini and that he wanted to leave his wife and have a blue-eyed baby with her.

Five years later when staff at the rest home confronted him about his inappropriate behaviour towards the two students, he responded by saying: "[She’s] what I’ve always wanted, a blue-eyed daughter. Like, I’m not being weird, I’m just treating her like she’s my daughter."

The Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) , which prosecuted Sobrevilla before the tribunal, said there was a power imbalance between him and the two students.

They said he was aware his behaviour was inappropriate and persisted with it anyway, despite being told by other staff members he was making them and the students uncomfortable.

The PCC said the power imbalance would have made it more difficult for the students to make a complaint and Sobrevilla’s conduct disrupted their training at a crucial time.

Sobrevilla’s lawyer, Jennifer Beck, said her client accepted the facts and that his behaviour amounted to professional misconduct.

Beck emphasised the emotional and financial price Sobrevilla had paid as a result of the charges. She said he had been dismissed from his role at the rest home and his marriage was under strain.

She said Sobrevilla now accepts his behaviour made the women feel uncomfortable, especially given it was ongoing across some 14 occasions.

In its written decision, the tribunal found each of Sobrevilla’s comments in isolation were inappropriate and warranted some form of intervention from management or his colleagues.

"The number of comments had the potential to intimidate staff, compromise patient care and deter student nurses from completing their training," the tribunal’s finding reads.

"Whereas breaches of professional boundaries usually refer to a blurring of personal and professional relationships with patients or clients, Mr Sobrevilla’s conduct concerns the way he treats women, in particular those who are junior to him in the workplace."

The tribunal found Sobrevilla’s conduct was "less serious" than other similar cases like that of Jesse Wilson, who made comments to two female nursing students about rape, sex and tried to touch them. As such, it found suspending Sobrevilla was not necessary.

 - Jeremy Wilkinson, Open Justice reporter