Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Been a Couple of Weeks

You may notice it's been a couple of weeks since my last blog post. Let me explain.

I used to work at a local residential/teaching facility for adults with MR/DD (mental retardation and developmental disabilities). It was at once the most fulfilling and most frustrating jobs I have ever had. Would I go back to it, after two separate OTJ attack injuries in 2010 and a year and a half of Workmens' Comp? In a heartbeat. Will I? Not until the administration changes ... RADICALLY.

When I started there, I learned during training that I would be going to one of the "rougher" homes. The residents were mostly higher-functioning men. We took a "crisis management" course and learned methods to, if possible, de-escalate situations before they became physical. They worked about 50 pct of the time. Anyway, I made my peace with the fact at some point I would get injured on the job ... and that somehow made it easier, less scary.

From the beginning there was one resident, Shawn, whom it seemed nobody wanted to be assigned. Truth be told, I felt a little sorry for him. Then I found out why staff felt the way they did. Five times in the next six months I filled out IA1 paperwork for an on-the-job injury, caused by Shawn. (The space of a whole blog may not be enough to contain his whole story, let alone a single post, so suffice it to say that there were things in his history that made some of his less endearing behavior, although not excusable for an adult capable of independent thought, at least partially explainable. Shawn was far from the stereotypical "defenseless" adult with mental retardation...ask the folks at the local Walmart eye center.)

I thought that many of the "professional" staff enabled him terribly, treating him as a textbook case, rather than an individual. Once, a behavior analyst told me to give being Shawn's staff over to co-worker, and pulled me outside to try and explain why Shawn did what he did, that he wasn't able to do recognize boundaries, etc etc etc. I related to her that Shawn had told me once that he ran the house and everyone there had to do what he said. "And," I added to the analyst and psychiatrist who was standing nearby, "he was right!"

A week or so later, I found a letter behind my timecard that indicated "for the good of the residents I was being transferred to another home". Bullcookies.

In the middle of a huge wave to transfer residents into group homes, Shawn was sent to a small rural community with two other high-functioning male residents. The first time I heard that I could barely believe it. Every man they mentioned seemed to make a practice out of being "the biggest and baddest". I didn't figure it would end well.

Well, it ended one night in May. Shawn was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. A staff person said he found one of the other residents on top of Shawn, choking him. This man was arrested and charged with murder, but later released as the police found new evidence. Autopsy results showed that he died from internal abdominal bleeding, which lead police to believe that the staffperson was not being honest, and they wound up charging him with homicide and gross negligence. He is currently out on bail.

I was not there that night, so I cannot say, with certainty, what happened. I want to believe that this staff person (for whom there has been a groundswell of community support) would not be stupid enough to go past stopping Shawn's violent behavior to the point of killing him. And, while admitting that there are cases of abuse that happen in this setting, I know that the system is set up with so many rules that home staff cannot help but cross some of them, and so are deemed by management to be the "guilty ones" in cases where a resident is injured.

Here is what I do know. I did not like Shawn. After getting over my outrage at the reason why I was transferred to a different home, I came to see that it was a blessing, in part because I would no longer have daily interaction with Shawn. Would I, even now, stand between Shawn and someone else to (try and?) prevent harm from either person to the other, even if it meant getting injured myself? Yes.

Did Shawn deserve to die like he did?