This Friday marks my last day at Blick, where I have been managing one of their group homes for developmentally disabled adults since mid-March. I was so, so relieved to get this job when I finally did so in the Spring after nearly six months of looking for meaningful full-time work in the Akron area, though that relief pales in comparison to what I now feel as I prepare to move on. The past four months have no doubt been some of the most challenging of my life, and frankly, that’s saying something. The role of Home Coordinator is hard enough in and of itself, but as I experienced it in my particular group home it was not only life-draining but near devastating.
Some mentally retarded/developmentally disabled (MR/DD) clients often have very few living choices because of the severity of their disabilities and behaviors, limiting them, essentially, to the few remaining "institutions" that are left. This may be viewed, and I more and more view it this way, as a "necessary evil" which is indeed necessary because while the goal of maximum community integration for MR/DD folks is laudable and workable in many cases, there are some cases, however, for which neither is true. Nonetheless, Blick decided as an organization some time ago that they would serve "all clients." meaning that they take those clients that no other agency will- indeed, they take some that every other agency has discharged because, quite simply, the clients are too dangerous. Remarkably, the agency has placed two such clients together in the home that I manage, along with a third man who is much higher-functioning and simply deserves better.
I do not, as I write this, mean to speak ill of those two very difficult, dangerous clients. God knows- and so do I- that their behavior is largely beyond their control, and I’ve been touched in one case to see how real the struggle has been for the family of one of these men to find the best situation for their son- and for those who care for him. However, that very lack of control over impulses to hit, kick, head-butt, scratch, bite, destroy property, and self-injure- AND the unpredictability of when and under what circumstances these behaviors will occur- make for a highly unstable and dangerous situation- all the time. I’ve been attacked by these two individuals in the van- at the same time, with one saying "I want to hit you now" as he vigorously did so, and the other saying "I’m going to scratch your eyes out" as he did his best to do so as well. While staff are provided with rudimentary self-defense training and Behavior Support Plans, including physical restraint procedures, for such behaviors, this training and the concomitant procedures are sometimes woefully inadequate, especially for the clients in my group home. Hence, prior to my coming, I know of several staff being sent to the hospital with injuries, and my predecessor received a number of concussions. Likewise, on my watch, one staff has been to the hospital a couple of times, and I’ve taken clients to the hospital at least three times, along with one ill-fated trip for an orthopedic consult in which one client literally ripped apart the examining room.
This makes of course for a very difficult work environment, and that, coupled with the fact that staff and Home Coordinators alike are grossly underpaid, results in constant staff turnover and related issues- including "sick" calls, etc. As news of my impending departure worked its way to my Home Coordinator peers for Blick’s other group homes, I heard many applaud my move and speak of their inclination to do the same. The stress of the job, without having one of the most difficult homes like I do, is incredible, and one of my colleagues had been out on sick leave until very recently with ongoing chest pain- likely because of work stress. I think it all caught up with me on Sunday when I got home from work- after having to rush in on what would have been a day off in order to defuse a crisis- and basically collapsed. I got so light-headed that I couldn’t stand up, and even now I don’t feel quite myself and await some blood tests on Wednesday.
Sooo….I am moving on. I have accepted a position with a local organization that operates a number of "community schools" throughout the area for children with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. My role with them will be the IEP Coordinator for one of their schools, which means I will be writing the Individual Educational Plans for the students in the school, overseeing their implentation, coordinating the meetings to dscuss and approve the plans, testing for progress, etc. It will be a demanding job in its own right, for sure, but without the violence and other stress. I’ll have a regular weekday, daytime shedule. I won’t be on call 24 hours a day. I’ll have built in time off in accordance with the school calendar, and it pays a bit more, to boot. This is a great move, not only for me, but for my family as well, and I praise God for the opportunity to make it and yearn that this might be a position in which I can stay and thrive for a good, long while.
Of course, I had a friend once who believed that the right thing to do in any situation was always the hard(est) thing and that one ought not live "opportunistically"- always looking for something better and taking it when it comes along. Somehow this all was connected to following Jesus, to living a cruciform life (though he would not have put it quite this way). I am keenly sensitive to this possible criticism of this move I’m making, as I have a propensity for massive guilt regarding just about everything I do. Still, I do not believe that I am doing what is described above, in no small part because I am already so terribly damaged as a person, and this role at Blick has exacerbated many of those psychologcial, emotional, and spiritual wounds (along with creating new physical ones) and so often I think the "hardest thing" for me is to choose the path of healing- to journey with Jesus beyond the cross, through death, and into resurrection and new life. I pray, then, that this is what this move represents.
Lord, let it be so.