Developmental Disability, Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Group Home, Mental Health, Physical Disability, Social Work, Uncategorized

Group Home Residents Often Live In Costly Isolation – Same Difference in Michigan

by Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt, Star Tribune/TNS, January 10, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS — Tim Healy calls the time he spent in a Twin Cities group home “my lost years.”

Healy, 32, has an intellectual disability and needs help with basic living tasks. But for 12 years at a group home in New Hope, he got little of that. He describes a facility so short-staffed that residents were ignored for hours at a time and rarely allowed to venture outside. He says it was a period of numbing boredom, loneliness and doubt.

Today, living with his mother in West St. Paul, Healy feels reborn. Cradling a guitar, he describes his plans to get married, find a job, start a rock band and take skydiving lessons. “It’s like I was a prisoner,” he said. “I’ve been away too long.”

Healy and his family remain furious at state and county officials who administer aid to Minnesotans with disabilities. They say no one told them that Minnesota’s Medicaid program pays for the kind of services that would enable Healy to live at home and independently.

“Tim could have flourished on his own, but we were led to believe that a group home was the only option,” said his mother, Brenda Olson.

Healy’s plight is one example of the way Minnesota is forsaking a legal obligation to promote independence among people with disabilities. Rather than helping develop care plans that would allow them to live in their own homes or apartments, counties across the state continue to steer thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities into facilities that promote dependency and isolation.

State spending on group homes, for Minnesotans with disabilities who receive a coveted form of assistance known as a Medicaid “waiver,” now totals about $1.5 billion a year. That represents about two-thirds of total spending on waivers for people with disabilities — and is more than the combined state spending on agriculture, higher education and pollution control.

Despite that huge outlay, records show that Minnesota rarely conducts inspections or on-site audits to ensure that group homes are delivering the individualized care and daily activities they promise.

As a result, Minnesota has become one of the most segregated states in the nation for housing people with disabilities. In 2016, only 7 percent of Minnesotans with intellectual and developmental disabilities who received waivers lived in their own homes. Last year, some 44 percent of Minnesotans with disabilities reported living in group homes — more than twice the national average and the highest rate in the nation.

“We are spending Medicaid dollars on an entrenched system that segregates people and leaves them with little choice,” said Barnett Rosenfield, supervising attorney for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. “It’s completely inconsistent with the law and the purpose of waivers.”

For those confined to group homes, the experience is often one of profound loneliness and frustration.

At a group home in Bloomington, Patricia Wilson sobbed while clutching the portrait of her husband of 35 years. The two were placed in separate group homes after she suffered a major seizure. She has seen him only three times in the past year. Wilson said staff at both homes have ignored her repeated pleas that they be reunited.

In Brooklyn Park, Marrie Bottelson, an artist with cerebral palsy, has tried to forget the 13 years she lived in two group homes, where arbitrary rules prevented her from enjoying a normal social life and pursuing her passion for painting.

And in Sibley County, parents of a 20-year-old man who has severe autism and behavioral problems, Dustin Zahn, were recently told by county case managers that he had to “fail in a group home” before he could use public funds to live in his own apartment with supports.

Sue Schettle, chief executive of ARRM, the state’s main trade association for group homes, acknowledged that providers are often unable to meet resident and family expectations for access to the broader community. The primary culprit, she said, is a statewide shortage of caregivers, which has put group homes in a precarious position. Many homes can sustain just one caregiver for every four residents, which makes it difficult — even dangerous — to take individuals on outings, she said.

To address the staffing problem, Schettle said that ARRM and a coalition of disability organizations plan a major marketing campaign next this year designed to promote direct care as a profession.

“The big elephant in the room is staffing — and speaking the truth about it,” Schettle said. “We have a whirlwind of problems in this state that are largely related to a lack of human resources.”

Officials with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), which regulates group homes, said the agency has been intensifying outreach efforts to inform people of their options under Medicaid, including new services that make it easier for a person with a disability to live independently or with families in the community. The agency is also exploring ways to simplify the state’s Medicaid waiver system to make it easier for families to access benefits.

“Our systems have gotten very complex,” said Alex Bartolic, director for disability services at the DHS. “No family or person trying to get services should have to understand how all this system works.”

Minnesota’s system of Medicaid waivers, created in 1984, was designed to use state and federal health care funds creatively to serve people in their homes rather than by paying large medical institutions or hospitals. Group homes, which typically house four adults, were seen as a good option for some people.

Today, in some parts of the state, they are the default — or only — choice.

In 55 counties, group homes receive at least 70 percent of Medicaid waiver funds, according to state records obtained by the Star Tribune. In all but four counties, group homes receive more than half of all waiver spending.

“All too often, group homes are the path of least resistance,” said Lee Ann Erickson, executive director of the Arc Southwest Region, a disability rights group in Fairmont, Minn. “We fit people into the system we have built, rather than tailoring services to meet their needs.”

For taxpayers, the practice is wildly inefficient. In 2017, the state Medicaid waiver program spent $104,000 for every corporate group home resident, compared with about $25,000 for those who live independently with supports.

Amy Hewitt, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, noted that many people with disabilities “love their group homes” and have close relationships with fellow residents and staff. Even so, she said, the giant supply of group homes — there are nearly 3,800 statewide — has acted as a disincentive to develop more creative options.

In 2018, Minnesota launched a new service covered by Medicaid waivers, known as “individualized home supports,” designed to provide training and direct support for people to live in their own homes. Of the 31,000 Minnesotans on waivers who are eligible for the program, only about 210 have taken advantage of the service, state records show.

“There are many, many people who have no idea that other options exist,” Hewitt said.

On a bright afternoon in August, Cathy Joy Schlager, 64, who has Down syndrome, grinned and waved from her wheelchair as her sister pushed her down the wide streets of Lakefield, a quiet farming community in southwest Minnesota. Local residents, seeing her on a rare outing from her group home, hollered her name from yards or porches and honked their horns as they passed.

For years, Schlager volunteered at a local nursing home, where she brightened people’s days with her wry grin and homespun crafts. She played on softball and bowling teams, joined a traveling clown troupe with her uncle, and wove colorful quilts sold in a thrift shop. At dances organized by a local disabilities group, Schlager would croon along to Johnny Cash on the karaoke machine.

“It doesn’t matter where we go in this town, people know Cathy,” said her sister, Heidi Arndt. “She’s famous.”

Then in the winter of 2018, Schlager suffered a sudden deterioration of her vision, which made it impossible for her to get around without help. Her two sisters, who live and work nearby, decided they could no longer care for her alone. They moved Schlager into a small, four-bedroom group home in Lakefield overlooking cornfields. The pain of separation was mitigated by assurances from managers at the home that Schlager would receive one-on-one care and be taken out in the community at least once a week.

“Our big mistake was believing them,” Arndt said.

Almost immediately, the sisters noticed a disturbing pattern. When they dropped by after work, they found that Schlager had been left alone for hours. Apart from a few hours each weekday at a local activity center, the promised outings did not occur. Her requests to go out with friends or volunteer at an assisted-living facility — just a block away — were ignored.

“We noticed that she was spending a lot of time alone,” Arndt said.

One afternoon last spring, Joni Hanson, one of Schlager’s sisters, dropped by the group home and found her sister slumped over in her wheelchair, facing a blank wall, while two staff members played puzzles in a distant room. She had been sitting in the same spot for nearly three hours. Her dinner lay on a plate in the kitchen, untouched and out of reach.

Pressed for an explanation by her family, managers of the group home repeatedly cited a lack of staff. Most days, the home had just one employee to care for the four residents, which made it unsafe to take anyone out of the home. Even short walks around the neighborhood, so Schlager could get some exercise, were considered a risk. Her sisters said Schlager’s muscles were atrophying after so many hours in her wheelchair.

The executive director of the group home operator, Habilitative Services, Inc., said the company is dedicated to quality service, including providing residents “with opportunities to access and enjoy activities in their communities.”

Janice Reyes has worked in hospitals and senior homes in southwest Minnesota since the 1960s. “I’ve seen a lot,” Reyes said, holding up calloused hands. Yet Reyes said she found the conditions at Schlager’s group home intolerable and quit after a few months. The hardest part, she said, was the guilt that came with working 10-hour shifts alone — unable to take her clients into the community.

“Cathy is a ray of sunshine around here,” Reyes said over coffee at a cafe. “She doesn’t deserve to be hidden in the shadows.”

In 2014, federal health regulators approved sweeping new rules to promote inclusion among people with disabilities who receive Medicaid benefits. The requirements were explicit: Every setting where a person receives Medicaid funds must be integrated into the greater community. This meant that people living in group homes were entitled to the same freedoms that people typically have in their own homes — including the opportunity to control their schedules, choose their roommates, have visitors at any time and decorate their own rooms.

The rules were hailed as a historic victory by disability rights groups. In Minnesota, however, enforcement of the rules has been minimal, and public awareness of the new protections remains low, say disability rights groups.

Starting in 2017, the state has required group home providers to submit documents, known as “attestation forms,” to demonstrate that residents have full access to the community. The DHS has conducted thousands of remote reviews, known as “desk audits,” of these forms, largely to ensure that the facilities are actually submitting the paperwork, state records show.

Yet the system is largely dependent on group homes self-reporting problems. The DHS has only conducted 86 site visits of group homes since the new federal rule went into effect nearly six years ago.

Without regular spot checks, it is impossible to determine if group homes are actually delivering the services they list in attestation forms and whether residents are getting out into the community, said Roberta Opheim, state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities.

“Simply requiring providers to submit a form is not enforcement,” she said. “It’s almost as if the (new rules) do not exist.”

There are also signs that Minnesota’s regulators have not kept pace with the growth of the group home industry. Complaints of abuse and neglect at state-licensed group homes have doubled since 2014, to more than 3,400 a year. At the same time, the percentage that are being investigated on-site by the DHS has declined consistently each year, falling from 46 percent in 2014 to 16 percent in 2018, state records show. Only 31 percent of maltreatment complaints have been substantiated over the past five years, state data shows.

Now Minnesota faces heightened scrutiny from a federal judge. In 2016, several group home residents sued the DHS, alleging that the state’s heavy reliance on the facilities is unconstitutional.

A federal judge hearing the case ruled last fall that the agency was violating due process rights by failing to inform people that they can use Medicaid waiver funds to pay for more individualized housing options, and then failing to notify them when such services were denied. The agency’s practices, the judge ruled, forced individuals to wait indefinitely for requested services without the chance to appeal and obtain a fair hearing.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank called for a “systemwide remedy” to improve the lives of people living in group homes.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Justin Perl, litigation director for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, which represents the residents. “For decades, DHS has made promises to provide services in the most integrated setting, and yet it has failed to honor that legal obligation.”

It was almost dusk, and a 2-year-old boy with a head of curls was gazing expectantly out the window of a small home in Brooklyn Park.

The boy screamed with joy as Marrie Bottelson rolled her wheelchair to the front door.

“Hi, sweetheart!” she yelled, swinging the door open with her foot. The boy crawled onto Bottelson’s lap as she rolled across a living room packed with her colorful paintings and children’s toys. The smell of roasted chicken wafted from the kitchen.

Not long ago, this cheerful domestic scene would have been unthinkable.

For 13 years, Bottelson, who has cerebral palsy, was confined to two group homes where her daily life was severely restricted. Because of limited staffing, Bottelson said, she was required to be in bed by 7 or 8 p.m. Bottelson, 44, is a successful artist who sells colorful greeting cards and paints portraits at art shows and on commission; yet she had no space to do her work and house rules prevented her from painting in her room.

“Everyone said I would be safe (in the group home), but I wanted more out of life than just being safe,” said Bottelson, who is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit. “All I wanted was a normal life.”

Then, at a state seminar on disability rights in 2013, she met others with disabilities who were using their Medicaid waivers to live in their own homes and pay for their own staff. No one had ever told Bottelson that such an option was possible. She immediately requested a similar arrangement, but was told by her Hennepin County case manager that she was “not independent enough” for individualized housing.

It took another three years of mediating with county officials before Bottelson fulfilled her dream. She now lives in a warm and bustling home, sharing it with Victoria Yang, a live-in caregiver, and Yang’s two children — Trystan, 5, and Felton, 2. The house is owned by Bridges MN, which provides independent housing for people with disabilities. Her waiver pays for Yang to help Bottelson get ready in the morning and cook her meals, and for transportation to the day activity center where she produces much of her artwork.

No one tells her when she can come or go. Cats jump into her lap as she paints. The children run and grab her shoes in the morning, and kiss her on the forehead at night. Bottelson affectionately refers to the children as “my little family.”

“People used to look at me and say, ‘Oh my God, she can’t live on her own.’ But I showed them that I can!” Bottelson said proudly.

 

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Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Mental Health, Uncategorized

In Defense of the Vulnerable – How the Complaint/Appeals Process in Michigan Makes Life Worse

This is all about our most vulnerable citizens. Our friends and family members. All of our loved ones. It’s about those people who are elderly and the disabled who have no family or friends and are at the mercy of those put in charge to make sure that they are cared for. The elderly can be disabled. The disabled can be elderly. Some people are born disabled and others are disabled in accidents and by poor life choices. It happens. Be compassionate. Some are disabled by sickness and disease. No one asked for any of this. There should not be any blame. We’re all unique and are who we are through our life experiences. Namaste’.

EVERYONE isn’t that far away from losing it all – and being poor. Accidents and illnesses happen every day.

We all need to stick together and support each other.

Remember this – everyone in their lifetime will become disabled in some form. Let that one sink in. So…

Below are the beginning questions on the State of Michigan Department of Attorney General’s (AG) Consumer Complaint/Inquiry Form. I looked to the AG on behalf of my son. I had previously filed a recipient rights complaint and went through that process and appeals, locally and at the state-level, which turned out to be a total waste of my son’s time. Six months of his life gone and no one was held accountable for the harm and long-term damage caused. All involved and responsible, got to walk away with no consequences for the medical neglect that he endured and is still dealing with physically.

And so…

Here is the MI Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint/Inquiry Form here (to print out) and online here (to fill in online).

Please be aware of the following:

Complaints and inquiries become public records when they are submitted to the Attorney General’s office, and under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, copies may be subject to disclosure to anyone who asks for them.

A copy of the complaint will be sent to the business against whom the complaint is issued. An accurate company Fax number will expedite processing.”

(OMG, they actually want to EXPEDIATE this process!)

– A copy of the complaint may be sent to other governmental agencies.

(So if your complaint is against a government agency, you’re fucked.)

” – Please be particularly cautious with information containing your Social Security number, credit card account numbers, etc. for security purposes. If you believe it is necessary to submit such information, you should mail that information and the corresponding complaint instead of sending it electronically.

Do not use punctuation when providing names and addresses.

Wow. Just wow. Nothing like putting a target on your back, eh? No guarantees of protection from retaliation. No protections at all. So if you’re making a complaint against ANYONE (could include a local, county, state business, agency or department) they get a head’s up – so that they can harass you, “threaten” you, retaliate against you in all kinds of ways.

I called the Michigan Attorney General’s office, without giving my name (of course), to ask about “protection against retaliation” if I filed a complaint.

I was told that I probably wouldn’t have to worry (right away), because whoever I was filing a complaint against wouldn’t know “immediately” that I was filing a complaint (unless you fax it – see above- so that the AG’s office can EXPEDIATE the process).

I was told that it would take at least a couple of weeks to fulfill any “freedom of information” (FOIA) request – without mention of the fact that “A copy of the complaint WILL be sent to the business against who the complaint is issued” – so then what? Sit tight?

Oh joy. That just makes me want to get right out there, jump up and down, and scream from the rooftops that my son was harmed. Not.

When I asked this question (about protection from retaliation), the person in the AG’s office had to leave the phone to go “ask someone” about it. Why? Because apparently, no one had ever asked that question before?! Fuck me! Really?

So WHY would anyone ever want to open themselves up to retaliation (which comes in many forms and degrees of severity), making their lives and the lives of their loved one more miserable (and potentially more dangerous)?

I’m curious to know how it works in YOUR state?

I’ve also learned, per personal experience, that the State of Michigan has stacked the deck against any form of justice or accountability/responsibility when it comes to their own legislature, under Michigan’s Mental Health Code.

This ONE paragraph in the decision letter that I received from the MI Department of Health and Human Services (how ironic) DESTROYED any hope of the truth coming out and overcoming evil, while proceeding to hold those responsible for the damage that they caused. It said:

“The Department will review the requested information and either uphold the original decision or return this matter to the (local/original) community mental health for additional investigation and consideration”.

WHY? Why would anyone think that this would be reasonable ANYWHERE, but especially in the United States of America? When it comes to full-disclosure; gathering ALL of the facts, with the expectancy that there would be no conflict of interest, where is the fairness and justice in how appeals are handled? Why would the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services/Department of Recipient Rights send this BACK TO THE LOCAL APPEALS COMMITTEE TO….. what? …. rule against a decision they’d already made? It certainly gives the appearance of protecting their collective backs – at the expense of my son who was neglected and harmed.

I’m betting that this has happened to many individuals and families in the State of Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services can do this legal “roundabout”, according to Michigan’s Mental Health Code. (when I locate this elusive mental health code, rule or reg, I will edit this post and add that part). I had it at one time, but I have stacks and stacks of records and files and I want to get this published.

The only way to change (the unfairness/conflict of interest/lack of protection from retaliation) is through legislature (I’m told) – which I’ve looked into and believe me, it’s not happening. I am still waiting two months out for my son’s state representative to get back to me. I am not holding my breath. I’m too smart (experienced) for that now.

Isn’t that sad? It’s no-man’s land out there. But I still keep on keeping on. I’ll figure it out, and when I do it will be all for the good.

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Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Group Home, Mental Health, Music, Uncategorized

Another Brick in the Wall

In Max’s life – “Another Brick in the Wall” translates into “Another Roadblock in Life”. The constant assaults on his individuality and integrity and personhood continue. It’s moments like this, that I wish I could sit across the table from Max, we both drinking a beer, while talking and laughing “about life”. I want to hear about his hopes and dreams. I want to know how he’s really feeling.

Then I’m dragged back into the reality of it all. All of this real-life crap that surrounds him. It’s been never-ending bullshit lately. I’m feeling powerless. I hate that feeling, and usually when I get to this point (it does happen sometimes), it spurs me on and makes me even stronger… eventually. Ha!

KORN

I meant to post more regularly (I have a lot to say) – with proof that Max lives and not merely exists in a world that doesn’t recognize his humanity, but life can be cruel. I got distracted by “life”. I had to take some time to re-group and make contact with people in-the-know. This is how it is when you have a child/adult with multiple, more severe disabilities. Networking and finding resources are EVERYTHING! It’s a fact in living this kind of life.

I know that it’s been awhile.

This week I visited him in his group home. When I walked in, he was sitting in front of the tv in the common living room. Two other people were sleeping in their wheelchairs. He was slumped in his wheelchair and needed to be pulled up. No one noticed except me. He was drooling so much that the front of his shirt was sopping wet. He had a look on his face that suggested he was disinterested in whatever he was suppose to be watching on tv.

At first he looked at me, like he really wasn’t seeing me. And then, he smiled as I used his shirt to wipe the drool off his chin. He needed his hair combed. He smelled. He only gets a shower on 2nd shift every day. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if he gets up in the morning, after having a bowel movement and sweating all night, that maybe someone should have given him a good bed bath in the morning?

I guess that’s not a part of the routine in this group home. It’s probably that way in most, if not all group homes. They’re very big on following the routine for “the whole”. There is no individuality in that regard. Or maybe it’s all about who is verbal and the loudest. Therefore, Max is not verbal and not the loudest. Max is also non-ambulatory, so no one has to go after him if he runs. Then it becomes survival of the fittest. Did you get that?

And I learned yesterday, when I contacted his “support coordinator” through email (I like creating paper trails) that they’re all about discouraging me from commenting, suggesting, complaining. She said that staff did engage him throughout the day but went onto say that basically, he “couldn’t have all their attention all day”, etc.

I want to make something very clear here. More times than not, it’s not the staff that is the problem (although there are those few). In fact most care providers work short-staffed, and are forced to work long hours – mostly 12 hour shifts – for very little pay (that needs to change). I’ve seen them exhausted and disrespected. I also know that they have their own families. In Max’s case, more than a few of his care providers have included him in their own family gatherings, and I’m grateful for that – as he has no close family living near him.

My problem is with the company that they work for and their managers. My problem is also with the local CMH who should be monitoring his care and working in partnership with myself and keeping me informed. They do the opposite. Where they should be diligent in their oversight and transparent, they avoid any communication with me unless it’s absolutely necessary. They don’t continue to educate themselves and they can’t see another way; the way that it’s suppose to be in creating a safe, happy, meaningful life for my son.

I’ve been stonewalled. I never see anything documented in his notebook and neither am I offered a look-see or a verbal report. I don’t get to hear, as in, “today we used small toys for Max to pick up and drop into a container, to maintain/increase his fine motor skills”. There’s no running commentary, ever.

They inform me of NOTHING. All I know is that every time I go over there, he’s sitting in his wheelchair doing nothing, except watching tv. Or laying in his bed watching his tv / listening to talking books (which I set up for him with the Library for the Blind). Note: I told the group home manager that books on tape could be easily acquired and set up for all the residents there (it’s FREE), but did that happen? No.

Every observation/comment that I made in writing in this email was countered and I was basically called a liar and my concerns belittled or questions unanswered. I WANT to reply back…. but won’t because it’s wasted energy and it’s all frustrating the hell out of me right now. (I need to think about how to effectively deal with this.)

She said Max didn’t smell… Believe me, he did. Perhaps,“that smell” is normal for her in the group homes that she visits. She only sees Max for 15 minutes 3x month. And NOW I know that every time she sees him, she doesn’t really “see him”. Excuses. They all have these pitiful excuses and I’m made to feel like I’m an unreasonable whiner. Fuck that.

I know “they” (CMH/Group Home Management) wish that I would go away and not visit him at all. I know they wish that I would just shut up and not care and let them NOT do their jobs; that I would be like other family members who drop of “their person” and walk away.

But I won’t. Fuck them.

Max received a Dynavox Tobii. It’s all based on eye-glance. Think of what Stephen Hawking used to communicate. Someday he WILL tell me what’s happened to him and what his wants, needs, hopes and dreams are. Someday he will have his OWN voice, and there won’t be anymore cop-outs, lies or manipulating from other people who would continue to get in his way of being self-determined.

When he starts using this, over time, he will get better and better. It may take a long time and I’m sure that both he and I will be discouraged – if staff isn’t trained and/or refuse to make this device accessible for his use (Dynavox Rep and SLP are coming to his home to set up everything, program the device and train staff) when I’m not there, but you know what?

Fuck them.

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Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Music, Uncategorized

I Won’t Let Go! I Will Defy Gravity!

By The Veer Union

“Defying Gravity”

Heavy is the heart I’m holding
(it’s holding me down)
With the weight of the world with no wings
(I’m stuck to the ground)

What was once a dream?
Is lost inside a scream?
I just need the energy
So I can fight the enemy in me

(I won’t let go, I won’t let go!)

I’ve been six feet underground
Fighting to be found
But I won’t let go
I won’t let go!
I’ve been locked inside a cage
Left to rot away
But I won’t let go
I won’t let go!

(I will be, defying gravity!
I will be, I will be defying gravity!)

This is not a revelation
(It’s what I’ve become)
This is just a destination
(To where I belong)

So I will right the wrong
And rise up to the sun
I just need the energy
So I can fight the enemy in me…

(I won’t let go, I won’t let go!)

I’ve been six feet underground
Fighting to be found
But I won’t let go
I won’t let go!
I’ve been locked inside a cage
Left to rot away
But I won’t let go
I won’t let go!

(I will be, defying gravity!
I will be, I will be defying gravity!)

(I will be, defying gravity!
I won’t let go… I WON’T LET GO!!!)

I’ve been six feet underground
Fighting to be found
But I won’t let go
I won’t let go!
I’ve been locked inside a cage
Left to rot away
But I won’t let go
I won’t let go!

(I will be, defying gravity!
I will be, I will be defying gravity!)

I fell into the fire,
Then stepped into the storm
The truth is but a liar
The day that it was born
I’ll erase the lies within
To find the truth again

I will be, defying gravity…

I will be defying gravity!!

There are those moments in life, when I become weary and heartsick. Tired of what seems to be an unending battle for every little forward step I try to take on behalf of my son and others. I feel so sore, with an ache that spreads down deep into my bones, and every movement brings pain … and I weep for all the wrongs in the world. I don’t understand (and will never understand) why people hurt people, when we’re all suppose to be ONE. We’re suppose to care about each other, to protect each other… to only do good unto and for each other.

I am resting right now – just a little while along this path called Life.

And then I will pick myself up again and move – one step at a time… down the road – until I meet up with YOU.

I hope you’re looking for me too.

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Developmental Disability, Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Uncategorized

A Child is Born – Part Two

The Neverending Story – The Nothing

This next post has to do with the reason that I decided to start a blog – and why I choose (at this point), to be anonymous. I may not always write well, but it’s still important to write – and put the truth out there for others to read. I hope that this might lead others to make a difference in their own communities – wherever that might be. Together, even one person at a time, we can right the wrongs in the world.

My son lives in Purgatory.

He’s neither here nor there when it comes to a good quality of life. It hasn’t been for my lack of trying to make it better. After all these years, I’ve hit a brick wall. It’s a wall of nothingness and nowhere. It’s impenetrable and feels like a presence; a thing that exists that seems physical – that I can’t see my way around. It’s a wall of apathy that appears to be growing day-by-day.

My son, who lives (I’ll say it again) in a group home, was medically neglected last year, and because of what didn’t happen is the reason that I felt that it was necessary to tell HIS story, which I believe is the story of many people. I know that this happens, every day, to many people in the United States and most certainly out there in the world. It’s happening at this very second.

I’ll add to that, the fact that no one in my morally and ethically irresponsible, backwards county even tries to understand that ALL people, even the most-involved – whether physically or developmentally-disabled – have the same feelings as ALL people do. Or if they somehow (in the deep recesses of their minds) know this on any kind of level – they don’t recognize the inherent right of each individual to be treated with kindness and respect – that is not based on some kind of monetary valuation. It shouldn’t “cost” to be considered a valuable human being. Every human being is valuable.

Max is a young man that lives with a small group of people who are old enough to be his grandparents and yet… taking a trip to Walmart or going through McDonald’s drive-thru is considered a “community outing” and he lives in a college town! There is a lot more to do here, but no one has any vision. No one cares and there is such a lack of creativity that it stymies and infuriates me. WTF?!

I could go on and on. Here, everyone in power, has that old-style, group home mentality thing going on. It’s miserable. It’s 2019. Not the 1970’s. Unfortunately, it does matter where you live. It matters which state you live in. It matters what county you live in. It matters what your base beliefs are and it matters what kind of people live in your community, as in are they good people who care or are they selfish and apathetic? And so what happens to many, many people in the United States (and I’m sure in other countries in the world… but I’m waiting to hear from others so I can include their personal stories in this blog)?

Warehousing. That’s what happens.

Those who are severely, multiply disabled and nonverbal – and have no way to communicate their wants, needs or desires in an “understandable” way to others who are not disabled, exist in a vacuum. They live in a kind of limbo-land. This includes the elderly who are developmentally-disabled and live in group homes. It happens in nursing homes. I’ve seen it up front, real and in-your-face.

This is the only place on this blog where I will write specifically about what happened. I have relayed the course of events to everybody that I know and all of those who are involved in Max’s life. This includes many advocacy groups/organizations at the state-level. This has led me to the horrendous realization that these are most certainly not in place to help individuals or their families. They’re more like money-raisers FOR the people that work there.

Back to Max.

Max had skin breakdown in the coccyx area. In the past, the plan had always been for him to have complete bed rest until healed – with of course scheduled range of motion and repositioning every 2 hours. Skilled nursing was called in by order of his primary care physician (PCP). The nurse, following dr’s orders, wrote in the notes that he was only to be out of bed for meals.

Almost a MONTH later she learned, and then I learned (after she notified me on the same day that she found out), that he was up and all over the group home, sitting up in his wheelchair, and out in the community going places – when he was only suppose to be out of bed for meals. What were they thinking? Why did this happen – especially considering what had been protocol for his care in the past?

After the nurse called me, I immediately called his PCP – who was out of the office on vacation. I spoke to a nurse practitioner (NP) – who was covering for the PCP. I explained what I had just discovered and we consulted.

It was agreed that the order would be faxed to the group home, that stated Max was to have “complete bed rest until healed” – and this was done. I have in my pile of documentation, a copy of this ONE page fax.

Probably within an hour of this, I received a phone call from a representative of the group home (contracted by the local CMH) telling me that Max would NOT be eating or drinking in bed.

So they willfully went against doctor’s orders and THEN got him up just for meals.

The nurse was lied to when she was told that they (the company that owned the group home) had a “written policy” that residents were not to eat or drink in bed, as this was reasoned as a choking hazard.

The nurse asked for this written policy. This was never given over because one didn’t exist. Of note, Max has a hospital-style bed where the head rises; the knees rise – either together or separate and the entire bed goes up and down! Many people are fed in bed and given drinks… you know…. like people in hospitals who are ordered to bedrest. What it REALLY came down to is that there weren’t enough staff for someone to sit or stand there to watch him after he ate – to make sure that he didn’t aspirate or vomit (reflux) for 15 minutes to ½ an hour. Not enough staff….not enough staff…. and this is how it goes in group homes across the nation. Number one reason – the pay sucks and the companies who own the group homes suck even bigger.

Max was harmed. The damage was already done. During the time that Max has lived in this group home, he’s lost a huge amount of weight. No one knows why at this point. He eats and he eats well. It’s still a mystery to be solved, but the seriousness of this grew when the medical neglect happened.

Because doctor’s orders weren’t followed, Max lost even more weight that he couldn’t afford to lose – from muscle atrophy. This has also exposed him to increased risk of worsening skin breakdown in the future. He no longer has a “butt” or the padding that goes with it! It took over a month from the time this began until it finally ended in healing …. because they never followed doctor’s from the beginning. If they would have followed what “worked”, and kept him in bed until healed, he would have probably been totally healed in 3 days (historically).

I filed a recipient rights complaint against the group home. I would like to note that my intent was that the complaint was suppose to include the local CMH, because THEY are the ones that contracted with this home to provide care for my son. Therefore, it has always been my opinion that they were just as responsible (culpable) when it comes to the care he receives… or not. The buck stops there. But THEY bowed out and didn’t do what they were in place to do. His CMH worker (as a titled social worker) was by definition a mandated reporter. She didn’t do her job. She did not protect Max. But within this system is a “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch my back” agreement. It happens in the court system as well. It happens in politics all the time. It seems to be the way-of-the-world.

So over the next SIX MONTHS I went through the process of denial at the local level (they said no wrong-doing) through the local CMH. Then I filed an appeal of this at the local level (again CMH), which led to another denial by the CMH’s appeals committee (was I really surprised?).

The next step was to file an appeal at the state-level, which was also denied.

Of note, I contacted Adult Protective Services (APS) once I discovered what happened and the resulting damage that not following orders caused Max. Ultimately the county APS investigator refused to take additional information and pictures from me – that further demonstrated the medical neglect. He said that he “had all that he needed and he had interviewed everyone”. He interviewed staff – who were afraid for their jobs. I live in the real-world and yes it happens. People lie; don’t tell the whole truth, etc. And it HURTS the vulnerable and it makes the world a miserable place. The struggle is real.

I was shocked when he told me this. I sat there mortified. I had just been confronted with actual corruption within a broken system! My eyes were finally open.

After I filed a complaint at the state-level (DHHS), I received a letter from them acknowledging receipt of my complaint, with the statement that they would get all information regarding this from the local CMH and they would either uphold the original decision (which was a denial) or refer it back to the local CMH for further consideration and investigation.

Now WHY would this be referred back to the CMH that denied it in the first place?

Well…. because it’s written into our state’s Mental Health Code.

How’s that for fucked up?

Max never had a chance. The deck was and is still stacked against him and others.

I contacted three different attorneys. None would take on this case. Want to know why? Because it wasn’t worth it to them. Period. Max didn’t die. Max healed. Max wasn’t permanently (further) maimed, disfigured or harmed (I could argue that). The harm wasn’t ongoing (I could argue this too – he ended up in Physical Therapy that I initiated on his behalf). It wasn’t worth their time and they wouldn’t let me explain anything further past their “intake interviews”. And I am poor. In fact I am below the poverty-level on SSI/Social Security.

The next step after denial at the state-level would have been to take it into court. I couldn’t afford to do that and none of the advocacy organizations that were suppose to be in place to help people with disabilities and their families would take this on. This is the world that we live in now.

But I’m not giving up.

I DO believe that it’s important for those reading this blog to see the TRUTH.

When I’m able, I will add blacked-out documents to this post, because it’s really happening, and I know that it’s happening to others – especially to others who have no one speaking for them or advocating for them.

And after all, this is …

The Underground Advocate!

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Disability Awareness & Advocacy, Music, Uncategorized

Words Darker Than Their Wings

By Alter Bridge

Good Sunday morning. For your listening pleasure and consideration of what is justice (and action/advocacy) for those who are oppressed in this world – and to engage. We must all become aware and take responsibility in creating positive change. The point is to keep shining the light of truth in all the dark corners… and never stop doing the right thing. Anyway, that’s my personal interpretation.

Lyrics: Words Darker Than Their Wings

They say you are right
I hope that I’m wrong
I know that you tried
But still it is gone

Just don’t you lose hope
I swear I never dream that we’re alone
Now don’t you let go
I swear I still believe though I don’t know

Remember the years
I still walked tall
I only fear
Now I only crawl

How could I be wrong?
I hope there comes a day your fear is gone
How could we be lost?
Lost just cease to be not carry on
Into the light may you fall
Into the light may you follow
Into the light may you know
Truth alone

Into the light may you fall
Into the light may you follow
Into the light may you know
Truth alone

You can love someone
Go never to ask why
Or to fear again
Go find your peace tonight
Go set out towards the sun
Let the new begin
Go soon your day will come.
Day will come

Into the light may you fall
Into the light may you follow
Into the light may you know
Truth alone

Into the light may you fall
Into the light may you follow
Into the light may you know
Truth alone
Truth alone

Truth alone
Truth alone

Songwriters: MARK TREMONTI, MYLES KENNEDY

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