Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guest Blogger - Chip

My son, Chip, who is a college freshman, was given an assignment in his English class to write a paper about a problem of his choosing, and then to brainstorm a way to solve the problem. He got an 'A' on the paper, and I wanted to share it with you all also:

Group Home Residents Are People First

John Burton claims, “Residential homes are bedeviled by poor management on all levels” (Burton, xv). I wholeheartedly agree with John Burton’s statement about residential home management. The reason is because my adopted sister, Jessica Nickerson, is currently living at a group home for the mentally disabled. Having witnessed the poor conditions that Jessica experiences each day, I want to restructure how the group home is managed and enrich, rather than demean, the lives of all the residents at the group home.

Jessica, now nineteen years old, was diagnosed with brain cancer at four months of age. She had a tumor removed, followed by two years of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. All of that left her with a significant cognitive impairment. However, even worse than all of that were the nine years she spent in foster care. While in foster care she was both physically and sexually abused and as a result she is diagnosed with a significant mental illness.

Jessica was adopted into my family when she was nine years old. Due to her mental illness and resulting aggressive behaviors towards other family members, my mother made the difficult decision to place Jessica in a group home at the age of thirteen. The group home that my mother chose is operated by a large corporation, which operates in many states along the east coast. It was that fact and the fact that it is one of the more expensive group homes that led my mother to believe it would be a good place for Jessica to live. However things have not worked out that way.

From the time Jessica was placed in the group home there have been a plethora of issues. The first issue that concerned my mother was that Jessica gained weight at an alarming rate. After a week of asking Jessica what she had been eating for dinner, my mother learned that meals consisted of high calorie, fatty foods and a lack of fruits and vegetables. In fact, while I was writing this paper, Jessica had called and during the conversation she mentioned that for lunch she ate hot dogs and cheese fries. In addition Jessica was living a sedentary lifestyle on the couch in front of the television.

A second issue that my whole family noticed was that Jessica would be more aggressive than usual when she would come home for visits. This prompted my mother to call Jessica’s psychiatrist. She found that Jessica had missed about half of her appointments.

Another issue my mother encountered was that Jessica appeared dirty, unkempt and had a body odor when she came home for visits. After having her cancer go into remission, Jessica lost the use of her left arm and hand. This condition makes it difficult for Jessica to completely care for her own personal hygiene and grooming. After my mother asked the staff at the group home about Jessica’s nightly hygiene routine, she found out they do not assist Jessica with these tasks.

On August 29, 2009, my mother went to see Jessica at the group home and to deliver school clothes and supplies. When she arrived she was appalled at the condition in which she found Jessica’s bedroom and bathroom. This led my mother to write a letter to both the group home manager and the state agency that licenses group homes. Among the problems my mother documented in this letter were dried vomit on Jessica’s bedding, mold and filth in Jessica’s bathroom, months old food in her room and dangerous cleaning products left in her room (Appendix). As stated earlier, since Jessica has very limited use of the left side of her body, she is not able to thoroughly clean her own room and bathroom. The group home has twenty-four hour staff coverage that should be responsible for assisting Jessica with these tasks.

John Burton believes, “ No amount of good intentions on the part of the managing organisation will translate into good care unless the Home itself is well managed from the inside… for good residential care to become an established reality, both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ management must work together towards one goal – meeting residents’ needs” (Burton, xv). In the case of Jessica’s group home management this is not happening. Their goal is just like many other big corporation run group homes and that is “to maximise profits for the shareholders and/or proprietors” (Burton, 48). I am not suggesting that these corporations are wrong for making money being their top priority. What I am suggesting is that if a corporation chooses this line of business, they should not try to maximize profit at the expense of resident care.

If I could completely restructure how Jessica’s group home is managed I would change several things so that Jessica’s and all the other residents’ quality of life is improved. The main change that I would make is the creation of an advisory board for the group home. This advisory board would not be hired by the corporation that runs the group, but instead it would be hired by the county in which the group home is located. The board would consist of seven members. One member would be a representative for the company. One member would be an employee from the county. One member would be representative for the staff of group home. Four of the members would be advocates for each resident of the group home. The advocates could be a resident’s family member or if the resident doesn’t have a close family member, he or she could choose another person to be their advocate. This advisory board would make sure that the company and the residents are both satisfied with the group home.

The second thing I would do would be installing cameras in the common areas of the group home. These cameras would be on all day and would also be hooked up to a digital video recording device. The cameras would also be hooked up to the internet via a secure, password-protected internet connection for the residents’ families and the advisory board members to view at any time. The purpose of these cameras would be to make sure that the staff is doing their work and to ensure the safety of the residents.

The last thing I would change is the makeup staff that works inside the group home. The current staff consists of workers with little or no training in the field of care of the mentally disabled. The staff works long hours and are poorly compensated for the work that they are hired to do. This combination makes for a dreadful work environment for the staff, therefore the amount of time in which a worker is employed is not very long. This quick staff turnover makes it difficult for the staff and residents to develop enjoyable relationships.

To fix this problem I would require all future workers to have had one hundred hours of training in the area of working with the intellectually disabled. Also the staff would have to take a test at the end of each year on their training. If a worker fails the test, he or she would have to take a class for two weeks on working with the mentally disabled before returning to the group home.

I would also increase the amount of compensation that the staff would earn. The base hourly wage would be ten dollars an hour. The hourly wage is increased based on past work experience with the intellectually disabled, references and any other applicable skills. There would be a minimum of three staff members in the home between the hours of 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. There would also be a minimum of two staff members in the home between 5 P.M. and 9 A.M. No staff member can work more than nine hours a day and fifty hours a week. Also, since working at a group home can be a very stressful job, the staff would have a stress management counselor available to them at any time.

I would be content if the group home manager took even one of my suggestions to heart and made a positive change for the group home residents. Making a decision to place a family member in a group home is perhaps the most difficult decision a family can make. The family should not have to struggle with the fear of what life is like for their family member in the group home. Group home residents, regardless of their cognitive ability, have all the rights that any other citizen has. As John Burton so wisely points out, “…homes for people disabilities… do not have to be bad places to live: they can be – and occasionally are – the very best places for their residents to thrive” (Burton, Preface).

Works Consulted
Barron, James. “New York Cited In Warehousing Of Mentally Ill.” New York Times 09 Sept.
2009: 24. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Wev. 28 Nov. 2009.
Burton, John. Managing Residential Care. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. Print.


Janet said...


Michelle said...

wow that was powerful and I can see why he received an A!

Azaera said...

He just as well written and eloquent as his mother. Beautifully done. I hope he submits it to the people who can make a change in the lives of group home residents.