The Joe Paterno Effect

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook this morning, and I received a related article, too.   It outlines the horrible abuse taking place in an assisted living facility.  The residents, mentally and physically disabled young adults, endured being locked in a closet with with a steel door, being immobilized by wrestling take-downs and use of pressure points, and being drugged into submission.  The event that finally finally caused this whole thing to bubble over was the rape of a 26 year old female resident who has autism and is cognitively impaired.  This ALF (assisted living facility) had been recognized since opening in 2005 as being one shitty provider of care for the most vulnerable people in the world — people without the ability to care for themselves, people who are wholly dependent on others to take care of them.

Before I get to the main point I want to make, let me address a couple other things first.  I have a little knowledge about this since I have two uncles who are developmentally disabled and live in a group home (ALF).  I admit, I am not one of their primary caregivers and I don’t get to their house nearly as often as I would like or should get there.  But I speak with my mother and my aunts and uncle and cousins who have more involvement with them so I have an understanding of what my uncles’ lives are like.  Overall, they live in a good ALF.  They are well cared for and have good food to eat and seem generally happy and healthy.  However, that is not to say that there have not been times where things were amiss.  Fortunately, my uncles have a large network of family who looks out for them and takes care of them and isn’t afraid to make a lot of noise to ensure their care.  My uncles will always have someone from outside the ALF checking on their well being.  Interestingly enough, the young woman mentioned in the article who was raped also has family looking out for her, but yet the abuse still happened.  If abuse and neglect can happen to people in ALFs who have family watching over them, imagine what kind of abuse and neglect can be inflicted upon those residents who have no family and are wards of the state.  Part of me hopes you have a vivid imagination, because whatever horrible scenarios you can dream up are probably someone’s reality.

One other point I’d like to make is an answer to a question that maybe you are asking yourself in your mind: if a family member is a resident in an ALF and being abused or neglected, why don’t you just remove that person from the abusive situation and take care of him or her yourself?  Ahh, if only it were that easy….  Every situation is different, and often people live in ALFs for a reason; they need very specialized and intensive care that can simply be too much for one person to take on physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or financially.  ALFs provide the care needed and also can offer meaningful social interactions and experiences.  My uncles call their ALF their home.  They have their own things in their own room.  They live with other residents and they watch movies together and visit other homes together.  They help do things like set the table for meals and put their clothes away in their dressers.  They love visiting their family on holidays and for outings, but they also like to return home after that, just as anyone else does.  Residents of ALFs are there because they are getting all of those needs met and having experiences that for various reason they would not be able to have living at home with parents or other family members.  There are health and safety issues that need to be addressed, and sometimes those responsibilities are overwhelming so an ALF can be a great option.  However, it is not easy to find an ALF.  Many people don’t want them in their neighborhoods (my uncles’ home is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, for instance).  People often confuse mentally disabled with mentally ill, and then make the ill-informed leap that mentally ill means means violent and dangerous, so they don’t want “those kinds of people” in their neighborhoods.  Sometimes ALFs get denied because people don’t like they way “those people” look or act.  I won’t even dignify those shallow, narrow-minded dumbasses with anymore writing about them.  Sometimes zoning laws prevent ALFs.  Houses in subdivisions are supposed to be single family dwellings and they say group homes are not single family so they are disallowed.  I won’t talk about homes where people have a friend living with them or when a family has other members living with them, like maybe a married child and his or her spouse, or elderly parents.  Those sound like extended families to me, not single families, but what do I know.  ALFs are hard to come by and there is more demand than supply for them.  Yanking someone from an ALF can mean a tough time getting that person back into one, if it happens at all.

Now, to my main point.  Sadly, abuse and neglect happen in ALFs.  Not all of them.  Not all the time.  But it does exist.  In the case of this facility mentioned in the article, the following things were done to try to stop the neglect and abuse happening there:

  • Administrators for an organization called the Agency for Persons with Disabilities told the state health agency about the abuse.
  • Advocates for them developmentally disabled told the state health agency about the abuse.
  • An award-winning exposé appeared in the Miami Herald outlining the abuse taking place in the ALF.
  • The home’s administrator has been exposed as a fraud — his credentials have been shown to be fabricated
  • A fine of $20,000 was imposed for the falsifying of credentials and for the abuse and neglect occurring.  Another fine of $21,00 was imposed upon the owners of the facility.
  • The state revoked the home’s status as a provider, which caused the home to be denied the collection of Medicaid dollars — the hope was this would force the facility to close, but alternate funding was found and the facility remained open.
  • The facility’s license was revoked three months ago.

Are you wondering how all this could have taken place since the opening of this home in 2005, and even after having its license revoked, the facility is still open and running?  I call it the Joe Paterno Effect.  It’s the ridiculous notion that following proper channels means you’ve done your job and you are now free and clear of any further responsibility.  Maybe it’s too narrow to call it the Joe Paterno Effect since more than one person at Penn State followed protocol and ended there in regards to reporting Sandusky’s abuses, but Paterno has become the name and face for that set of horrors, so I’m using it here.  Just “doing your job” isn’t enough.  I’m sure everyone mentioned in those bullet points felt they did their job — they reported abuse to the proper agency.  Fines were imposed.  Federal aid dollars were denied.  Licenses were revoked.  All the proper channels followed.  And a woman was raped as a result of following the proper channels.

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My uncle Jimmy playing games at Dave & Busters last year at a Christmas party for the residents of his home and their families.

Don’t “do your job” and absolve yourself of further responsibility or involvement.  Follow up.  Talk to more agencies and more advocacy groups and more reporters and medical professionals and media outlets and your friends, family, and neighbors.  Tell everyone about what you know is happening to these people.  Go to the home and check on the residents.  Take pictures.  Write things down.  Make noise and continue to make noise until you are heard and the abuse stops.  Don’t make your phone call to the 800 number and stop.  Don’t send your email or fill out the proper form and stop.  IT’S NOT ENOUGH!  Every day a place like this is allowed to stay open is another day of horrors for a resident there.

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My uncle Joey playing Guitar Hero at Dave & Busters last Christmas at a party for the residents of his home and their families.

About renbog

I have opinions and I have passions and I like to write.
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3 Responses to The Joe Paterno Effect

  1. Gloria says:

    Families are afraid of retaliation to their relatives in the homes. There aren’t enough of the licensed homes so if you take someone out of one, you may not find another one and the care taking for the family ruins everyone’s life. If the caretakers were paid decent salaries and actually given some training many of these abuses wouldn’t happen. Also there should be surprise visits from the licensing agencies to check on these homes which there really aren’t unless complaints are made to the proper authority. There should be facilities that have adequately trained staff funded by the state and the federal government. If we didn’t send so much aide to other counties, there would be money to help our own citizens.

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  2. renbog says:

    Gloria, I understand the fear of retaliation. But if we all live according to that fear, then the abuse will continue. The more light shined on the problem, the more difficult it is to continue the abuse and hide it. One of the things I thought about addressing in this post was the concept of “you get what you pay for” because indeed, the workers in these homes get paid a pittance — often not much more than minimum wage — for a demanding and often unpleasant job. They need to cook and clean and take care of a large number of people. These people have medical issues and involved medication schedules. The residents have needs sometimes that are difficult to deal with — drooling, wearing adult diapers, and other hygiene issues that they need assistance with. Add to that the fact that some residents are difficult to communicate with — they don’t speak clearly or may not be speaking at all — and you’ve got a potentially challenging shift ahead of you if that’s your job as a caretaker. Minimum wage is not going to make those tasks attractive. You end up relying on the moral decency of a person, and obviously that cannot always be counted on. There are lots of things that need to be done to make the system work for those who benefit from ALFs, and until all those things are accomplished, we all need to be aware of facilities that mistreat their residents and actively stop the abuse from happening.

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  3. roxanna jeffries says:

    thank you so much for writing it ,you don’t know how much this just….my son is josh and this place your talking about was his home for a little while.this whole experience has been horrifying .thank you for everything. could you imagine how the mother feels her daughter was raped by an employee there …my heart cries..

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