This is going to be the first of two articles, as there's no way to address this adequately otherwise. What I'm addressing is the article in the OBSERVER on May 10 concerning New York state's efforts to combat abuse in its system for the care of the disabled.
The article is addressing the state's response to an article last year in The New York Times about abuse in the system, and how people are getting away with it and how management isn't addressing it, and implying it's a rampant and common event in the system as a whole.
This is, quite frankly, a complete and total fabrication, and an attempt to duplicate the attention of the scandal at Willow Brook Developmental Center years ago. Papers will do that when their sales are dropping so precipitously. Anyway, I read that New York Times article, and saw exactly one horrific case mentioned, that quite frankly shocked me, but again, just one case. Some of the other cases mentioned, I was directly involved with some years ago.
The one case and the employee mentioned by name to imply the state wasn't addressing abuse cases is totally misleading. That case went to arbitration and the employee was exonerated. Why? Quite simply, the state's case was bogus from day one, and the employee wasn't guilty.
How do I know that? I was the CSEA grievance representative who got all of that "evidence" thrown out, and along with it the state's entire case. Does he still work for the state? No, he does not.
What is abuse? I mean the legal definition, what is it? Do you know? I do, and let me explain some incidents of abuse as mentioned in this article. If you work with a client who deliberately spits in your face numerous times a day, I almost assure you that at least once you just might let loose with a profanity. It's sort of a reflex when things like that happen often enough. And when you do, you have just committed "verbal abuse." One of the cases mentioned was of that sort of "abuse".
One time many years ago, I walked into a bathroom to see a large female client bending over a toilet. When I asked her what she was doing, she whirled around and stabbed at my face with a fork. I blocked it, and she stabbed me so hard that the fork was literally sticking out of my arm while I wrestled her to the floor.
In such tight quarters, I assure you my methods of restraining her were probably not legal. I also admit to letting loose at least a few profanities. A good stabbing will do that to you. I was later sent to an emergency room where I was given a shot of Gamma Globulin to prevent Hepatitis, a Tetanus shot and placed on a very strong antibiotic.
The next day my arm was as big around as my calf, and I couldn't close my hand for a week. Naturally, I missed a week of work as well, and I was also guilty of abuse. The state doesn't allow for bad profanity, even when you're being stabbed. They also don't allow for any variance of legal "holds" when disarming a client who might be trying to kill you.
I was passing medications one other time, and another staff was bringing clients to the half door of the office to receive them. While she was leaning over the door, another large client ran out of a bedroom across the way with a 3-foot piece of 2 by4 raised over her head aiming for this staff person's head. I leaped halfway over the door, shoved the female staff out of the way, and simultaneously blocked the swinging 2 by 4 and managed to grab a fistful of the client's hair to pull her over the door at the same time. If she'd hit that staff she'd have caved her skull in, probably killing her. But, technically, once again, I was guilty of abuse.
In a day room on another "living unit" or ward, the sound of glass breaking filled the air. As I ran down the hall, I could see two other staff rushing clients to one side of the "day room." As I entered the day room, I saw a client holding a pointed piece of glass about 2 feet long running toward the other clients and staff. I jumped in between and when the client aimed for me, was able to kick the piece of glass out of her hand, and then place her in a legal "wrap up". Kicking the glass out of her hand was legally "abuse".
In the article in the OBSERVER, the headline tells of the state seeking to fire more than 200 employees. I'd bet at least some of them ought to be. I'd also bet lots of others were good people placed in bad situations with little or no time to plan for any kind of response. I'd also like to point out that 200 people is quite a bit less than 1 percent of the employees in that agency. So, because a very, very few cases seem to have been mishandled, at least according to the New York Times article that started all of this, we're going to spend $50,000,000 on a whole new state agency, with a whole new set of employees with an absolute need to justify their existence and their jobs, armed with an apparently new one-size-fits-all definition of abuse?
Let me make a prediction; they'll find work for themselves. That work will become so extensive, that agency will grow. No politician will dare to interfere or to argue its existence for fear of being accused of not caring for the disabled", or for "being favor of abuse" or for catering to the unions.
Unfortunately, nobody will dare to make those same accusations, or similar accusations relative to politicians bowing to the power, votes and negative publicity generated by the industry associated with the care of the disabled. Part of that is to deny clients like those I mentioned above even exist.
They do, lots of them. And, I hate to say this, but it's getting worse as the staffing is going down. I am speaking of course about the staffing of the group homes and such by the people who actually work with clients firsthand, not the over abundance of pencil pushers which all state agencies are burdened with.
Just last year, just in the Western New York DDSO, there were almost 450 employees injured. Over 250 of them were off work for various lengths of time, totally over 5,000 workdays. All clients are not the smiling kindly folks one sees on television. The people who work with the other kinds are in constant danger of assault, and even sexual abuse.
One well-documented case involved a client from a West Seneca group home stabbing a neighbor in the forehead after he left his home and started rummaging through cars. There are also court documents to support a client almost raping a staff some years back. Where are those clients now?
The Developmental Center is closed, so I guess they might be living next door to you. But, back to the staff and dealing with individuals like this, if any staff were to do one thing wrong, use one hold not perfectly applied, or even raised their voice during an attack, they would be guilty of abuse; that is not conjecture, it's fact.
More to follow.
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org