Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In response to Giuseppe Sabella's April 15th article, "Teen's Death Comes Amid Complaints at Rescare's WV Facilities."

I write in response to Giuseppe Sabella's April 15, 2017 article, Teen's Death Comes Amid Complaints at Rescare's WV Facilities. I am a children's therapist, a social worker, and the mother of "Resident 2" that is mentioned in the article. My son, Russell,  has severe autism and has resided at the Woodward home since 2014. The other boys at the home are like family to me, and I am heartbroken over Jeremy Bush's death.
However, I visit the Woodward home regularly, anytime I want to, announced or unannounced and have never found staff to be anything other than professional and caring. When problems have arisen, they have been handled quickly and efficiently. As someone who is deeply involved with this facility, I have multiple issues with Mr. Sabella's article.
First, while in an ideal world, there would be no substantiated allegations of neglect, abuse, or staffing issues at any care facility, we know this isn't the reality. According to the article, Rescare facilities statewide had 32 complaints in a four-year period among 10 facilities, so on average, that's less than one complaint per facility per year. It would have been helpful if Mr. Sabella would have pointed out how this number compares to other agencies who serve similar clientele over the same period of time.
Later in the article, Metro 911 records were reported, and Sabella highlighted that emergency services responded to the facility 35 times in two years. Most of them were for triggered fire alarms. Ten "were from people concerned about patients outside the facility." An average of five times a year, someone in the neighborhood called to complain. How many of these were true issues?
Sadly, abuse and neglect could occur anywhere: in families of origin,  foster care,  group homes,  daycare centers, hospitals, nursing homes. In any agency, sometimes employees look good on paper and in interview and turn out to be bad people, but companies have no way of knowing this until an incident occurs. Additionally, the reality is that these clients are mentally impaired and can be "aggressive, assaultive, and security risks". Often, this population cannot be reasoned with, and they can randomly act out aggressively. It takes special people to work with these clients, and sometimes new employees feel that they "have what it takes" until they are faced with the reality of it.
Sometimes families have to make a decision for placement when it becomes evident that they can no longer care for their loved one in their home. What troubles me most about his article is that you've highlighted the worst without any balance. You've likely discouraged families from reaching out for group home care when they desperately need it. You made no mention of the thousands of other clients that dedicated Rescare staff work with daily to improve their quality of life.
"Resident 2" had listed in his record that he "was known to flee from his home and out of staff's eyesight." That was likely put in there because I told them. He is severely autistic and nonverbal. I tell all new staff that my son will do what you expect him to do nine out of ten times, but the tenth time, he will do something so unexpectedly that you won't see it coming. When he lived at home with me, he used to try to grab my arms when I was driving, has slapped me so hard that it left marks, has the ability to stay up for multiple days with no sleep, and yes, with autism, elopement is always a concern. He is 6' 2" at age 15, and some days he would throw himself  in the floor and refuse to dress. Some days I would  have to grab him around the waist and pray I could keep him from running outside in the snow naked. One day he got off the bus and threw himself in a ditch on the side of the road. He was unable to toilet train and would smear feces on the wall, and sometimes if he got mad, he would purposely urinate on his mattress.  You take these behaviors and multiply them by 2500, which is what Rescare is dealing with daily. You're going to have "incidents". You don't slam one of the few agencies that is truly there to help. You don't understand this unless you have lived it, but Russell and I are available if anybody wants to talk.  
Rescare and their staff saved my life and Russell's too. They took him in when no other local facility could manage his behaviors. If it wasn't for the Woodward home, my son would be at best six hours away from me and could be sent as far as Florida. Since he has lived at Woodward, he has become fully potty trained,  his speech has improved, and he dresses himself. He is more social and goes on outings with staff. Elopement is no longer an issue. He is no longer aggressive. For the first time in his life, he has friends who are like brothers to him. I tell the boys that we are all family.
My final issue is that the article  highlighted all the problems without offering solutions. The solution is better pay for staff. This would attract, reward, and keep caring people in place. Day programs are also needed for those with mental impairment so that they have productive things to do to fill their time. The Charleston area needs a respite center similar to the Potomac Center in Hampshire County. We need more schools such as the Applied Behavioral Learning Center in South Charleston, and Kanawha County Schools needs to find an effective way to educate and work with students having the severe behavioral issues that come with autism instead of putting the students on homebound.
In summary, Rescare is one of the few agencies in this state that tries to give these clients a meaningful quality of life. I know from experience that many therapy centers, doctors offices, churches, and the school system do not want to deal with my son and other clients like him. But these children are here, and they have the right to be. Jeremy Bush's death should be a wake up call that more services are needed in our area, but it shouldn't be used as a license for the media to sabotage the few helpful services families like mine do have.