The children we cared for were sometimes society’s discards. Misshapen, sometimes grotesquely, by congenital deformity, abuse or neglect, these people are housed in units all over the country. They are revenue streams to their “owners.” When I was growing up, they were called retarded people. Now the polite term for them is developmentally disabled. This is a people business.
The business of caring for these people is huge. Government money flows like milk and honey to those agencies where the paperwork is most artfully drawn. Support for food, education, health care and rehabilitation arrives in direct correlation to the numbers of DD’s in the agency. And the fewer services they use, they more revenue that is available for the agency. The services that are used must be kept at low cost. Personnel costs are the most challenging. Finding people to watch these revenue “chips” is not always easy. Then a nod must be made to training and proper procedure. Certain government programs require certain hoops be jumped through before cash is disbursed. But the ultimate authority is the bottom line. To the extent that the patients or clients are treated within certain minimum standards, profits can be immense. Such is the case for Black Hills Special Services of Sturgis, South Dakota. This is a people business.
To have several high-functioning DD’s is the best plan. Service costs are lower (no residential staff costs), and the money flows from rural school districts and government agencies alike. These individuals may even work in the community. They are prime revenues sources. No matter what they do…drinking, drugging, having babies, etc…they will be kept on the “payroll” until they do not qualify for enough support money to make them profitable. The stories are astounding. This is a people business.
Those who are hired to work in the residential, revenue flow facilities must have a high tolerance for the sights, smells, sounds, and injuries of working with highly unpredictable people. At any moment, one of the clients may shit their pants and spread the contents all over themselves and their rooms. They might hit or kick, run away, or vomit and then eat the large pieces. Workers must take of some of the things the agencies would most fear being made public. This is not work for weak people. Yet the wages paid for this sort of support are relatively low…the profit margin must be protected, don’t you know. Staff to client ratios are kept as low as guidelines will allow and lower when no one will be checking. The staff who will work under these conditions are valuable indeed. They help support the revenue stream. This is a people business.
Once in a while, though, a staff member truly gets hurt or sick. They become a drain on the revenue flow. They cannot work as much. They are definitely discardable material. The same person who was celebrated one day may be ostracized the next. Their injury will be minimized and they will not enjoy the protection of any of the government agencies that protected the clients they helped care for. The healthy body that changed shitty diapers and lifted a 120 pound paraplegic back into his wheelchair or bed may now be in a crippled state due to the work. And the worker is of no value any more. They will be discarded. This is a people business.
When I look back on my experience working with disabled young people, I see the best of what I was put on this earth to be. If Christ ever saw me work up to within a mile of my capacity for love and respect on this earth, it was when I lifted Joey in my arms and tucked him into his bed. Joey is 19 years old and weighs about 110 pounds. He is a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome like so many of the children discarded into agencies like the one for which I worked. Joey will never talk or walk. He spits his food-processed food while eating because his palate cannot handle the swallowing motion. He will never have the capacity to think at any deep level, and he wears diapers. Other children had more challenging problems. One could never stop himself from masturbating for very long because it was his only pleasure. Several autistic children were occasionally violent and difficult to understand. I tried to offer the love I had to them. I often worked alone on the overnight shift, so I saw and took care of much. This is a people business.
I did not want any accolades for working this job. I just wanted to know I was making a little bit of a difference. Then, one lonely night, I got hurt. I ripped out the muscles of my belly while lifting a client back into his bed. I called for help. I couldn’t reach anyone for hours. When I did, I was able to get help to drive home. I medicated myself and returned to work. It was Christmastime. I didn’t want any of the clients to be alone or to leave other employees without help. I tried to keep going. For weeks I medicated and I went to work. The hernia grew larger. It threatened to strangle my bowel. I was eventually placed on leave but only after a doctor said my life might be at risk. This is a people business.
Now, months later, I faced the company in a mediation session to try to resolve my workers compensation benefits claim. My doctors, who spent five hours in an operating room and months afterwards trying to help me heal, have now placed permanent restrictions on my activities. My body has been rendered disabled. And the company doesn’t want to pay the $14K in benefits they should pay. They feel I am damaged goods…of no value any more. I am to be discarded. This is a people business.
The story isn’t a happy one. My life will never be the same, and this company cannot be bothered to fulfill its obligations because the bottom line will be impacted. And just what do people think they do when faced with a costly decision about a client? This is, after all, a people business.
And if we aren’t revenue, we are all human waste.
Submitted by Donna Smith of South Dakota. Permission granted for publication.
Contact: Donna Smith.