Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I had to go to the mall - for work. How I got this gig, I don't know. About 10 days ago I went in to the photography place in the mall with a memory stick. A very patient woman there helped me find the image and then place the order. Vita was having a poster made that will hang in the front office behind the reception desk. It's a beautiful image of a cornfield on a hot sunny day, all brilliant blues and greens. The field is seen through the open door of a collapsed barn. The barn is done in black and white. The word 'Vita' is written in the sky and the mission statement:

providing safety - practicing respect - promoting community

appears along the bottom of the photograph. I'm not good at describing things, but let me say that the image is arresting. As we framed it up on the computer at the photography store, the woman said, "This is quite something." And it is. I placed the order for the largest print size they do - poster size.

They called to tell me that the photo was ready and I set a time to go to the mall to pick it up. Joe and I arrive and we were both quite jazzed to see what the final product looked like. At first they couldn't find the poster but then it appeared behind a bunch of others. They pulled it out of the tube to show it to me. An elderly man, shopping in the store came over, with the curiosity of those with time on their hands, to see what the poster looked like. They held it up and we all gasped. It's really something.

The old man was standing next to me now, he read the words on the poster and then turned to me speaking with an angry voice, "What is Vita?"

I didn't understand the source of his anger but I told him that it was an agency that provided service to people with intellectual disabilities. He pointed at the poster and said, "All you guys should have to promise safety." He was shaking. There were tears in his eyes. The clerks were embarassed for him, I don't know why - legitimate feeling is rare these days and I was seeing just that in front of me.

"What happened?" I asked.

He could barely look at me as he told me that his wife, he paused when he mentioned her and pulled out an old wallet, worn with use and age - kind of like the man who held it out to me. I looked at the picture of a young couple smiling and holding on to each other. Only something hard could tear a love like that apart, I thought. "She's beautiful," is what I said.

Telling me that she was in a nursing home after having been diagnosed with Alzheimers and it was in that nursing home that he came to visit only to find her badly hurt. Beaten by a nursing staff that lost patience with her. Though she didn't remember the beating, she was afraid of everyone - even him - for months afterwards. "When I put her there, they promised to take care of her. But they didn't."

"I am so sorry," words like that are so inadequate - but I meant them and he knew it.

"They should make you, the government, should make all you guys promise that people will be safe when they live with you. The government should make you. Really make you. Promise. You should have to promise. We are giving you our family. The one's we love. You should promise. It should be safe." Tears were rolling down his face. The place was silent. He took out an old handkerchief and wiped his face. He looked at me like he was going to apologize, thought better of it, and turned to walk out of the store.

I'm glad he didn't apologize.

I hope that every day at work we, through the mission -

providing safety - practicing respect - promoting community

we, somehow, apologize to him because we can never make it up to her.


wendy said...

OMG...the horror of being dependent on the goodwill of others! My heart breaks for the man in your story and his wife.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave:

What a powerful story.

I would like to use this blog entry with my community college class when we discuss power and its use and abuse in helping relationships - can I have your permission? We already use Power Tools and First Contact - you should know that your writing has a huge impact on the students.

Dave Hingsburger said...

colleen, you have permission to use this, or any other blog entry, so long as you cite me as the author and the blog as the source. I'm glad you are using my books and happy to hear that you think they make a difference. That's what it's all about. May I ask what college you teach at?

theknapper said...

Words describing mission statements or philosophy often sound nice but don't immediately hit reality.....this story is so powerful and needs to be part of training & everyday work.....Thank you.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thank you for telling this story - being now in care myself, getting the stories of slaps, of denied care, of physcial abuse from the staff who help me that they have seen and that nothing is done about (because there is ALWAYS another 'client' but never a cause to get rid of a care worker). Even I have felt physically threatened in my home by a care worker. Now, all of Victoria is under the care of Beacon care agency (ALL OF US, for a city of 400,000-500,000) - and I asked the assistant to the executive director if ANY worker for ANY reason had ever been terminated (that was 6 days ago). The answer was no, not in her knowledge. Domestic abuse is what 33% to 60% annually but not a single worker abuses a client....or not a single worker is given a criminal record and dismissed for doing so.

There is a thing I have learned from my life - people can rape women, girls, children or siblings under certain circumstnaces and never have to fear arrest or jail. And you can do everything from psychological to physical abuse to people in care without having to fear arrest or jail either.

Anonymous said...

To Elizabeth McClung: It saddens me greatly to hear that there is an agency that has never dismissed anyone for abuse. Though our mission and daily work ensure we are providing as safe an agency as possible - statistics tell us we have abusers that work for us. At Vita our policy is for any accusation of abuse whether made by a staff, a member (our residents)or family the police are called. We do not investigate, they do and we have dismissed many staff as a result of abuse. And it is the staff or resident that calls, they don't have to report to management. We teach everyone that they must do this in response or witness of any abusive action. Often our collegues say, police won't do anything - Not True! once you engage them it is amazing how responsive they are, how seriously they investigate every case and ensure our members are protected. And yes this goes for those that don't use regular words to communicate or whose gestures and body language are severly compromised as a result of their physical and/or mental disability. To have never dismissed a staff for abuse means that you are allowing abuse to occur, you are denying the rights of those in your care. It is a difficult thing to admit as an administrator that abuse could happen in your organization, but to deny would make me just as abusive. Please continue to speak up, ask questions, change can happen. It did at Vita!
Manuela Dalla Nora, ED Vita

Elizabeth McClung said...

Manuela Dalla Nora,

Thank you for letting me know that what I experience is NOT universal. Thank you for letting me know the policies. I think the fact that workers here report to manager/RN's instead of to police directly indicates how "managed" the system is - where else would an assault or sexual abuse have to be "decided" whether to be passed on to the police? It is the behavoir of odd cults and not home care....well except it IS the behavoir of home care, sadly.

Again, thank you and if my partner ever gets a job offer from Ontario, we will be there (You HAVE put the stake through Mike Harris' heart, I hope or is he still lurching about?).

Unknown said...

Oh Dave, I have tears rolling down my cheeks....for her, for every person who has been in that situation.

I do know that little by little, with people like you, like me, like those that read your blog....we can help make sure no one ever has to appologize in the future.

Oh gosh, I can't stop crying.

FAB said...

What a powerful story! It's sad but true, we think that people are safe within a service system, but the systems often are not really designd that way. In a training I recently wrote I quoted a Dr. Wolbring who touched on the difference in vernacular.

Term for typical popualtion

Battery, Abuse
Rape, Sexual abuse, abuse

Term for people with disabilities

Punishment procedure, aversive treatment, physical prompting, assistance, guidance

Euthenasia, neglect, medical discrimination, assisted suicide, "allow to die"

Professional misconduct.

You see, what in the rest of society is a crime, in a provider agency is often a "training issue" or disciplinary issue.

Often people who abuse at one agency, may get the chance several times there, and then just go to another agency, where that agency has no idea of prior abuse.

Again this all points to how we devalue people with disabilities. It's criminal!