raising the bar
(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
My job as group home manager started with a bang. My new boss handed me keys and suggested I meet the residents over the weekend. If the woman on duty asked if she would be my assistant, I should tell her no.
Driving to the home, I passed the pay phone I didn’t use the night of the accident, as well as the field where my car flipped three times. I knocked on the front door and entered a dark, depressing living room. Four residents watched TV while a woman crocheted in a separate room in front of another TV. Most jobs didn’t allow time for staff hobbies, including ones at group homes. I kept quiet and observed. She asked about the assistant position and when I responded, she argued. Leaving shortly after with the residents for an outing, she hit my parked car with the company van.
Presumably by accident.
I worked three 24-hour shifts a week including weekdays while the residents usually attended a workshop. I drove them to numerous doctor visits. I also volunteered additional time when Beth was in school. A mess of paperwork needed to be cleaned up in short order for a state inspection and the house had been neglected to the point of being unhealthy.
I bleached the mold on and in the refrigerator and cleared legions of powdery bugs from overhead lights. I scoured decades of yellow wax off the kitchen floor, cleaned mice droppings out of cupboards, and threw away infested food. My mom helped me replace the wallpaper to brighten the living room.
My hectic paid hours focused on the residents and improving their quality of life. I gave a pep talk at a staff meeting to enlist help to raise the bar. Thankfully, the crocheting woman transferred to another home.
I aimed for a level of care I would want for someone I loved.
With few staff and fewer resources, I fell short. Though I took a small measure of pride in trying. I recognized the seriousness of my responsibilities, aware of my impact on the day-to-day mental and physical health of the residents. Group home managers doubled as underpaid psychologists, nurses, and nutritionists. I expected the job to be taxing, like my earlier Tiffin Center job, where most of the residents had grown up in an institution without a loving family.
The difference at the group home? Working alone most of the time.
I dispensed a complicated litany of pills, my least favorite part of the job—especially when a volatile resident refused to take his psychotropic medicine. Despite behavior plans I followed, I filled out scores of incident reports. I also slept poorly three nights a week on an uncomfortable day bed. But it wasn’t all bad.
Three of the residents played on a basketball team and I cheered for them at games with the fourth. Other outings could be fun, too. Sometimes. In the middle of the night, a deaf resident occasionally switched on his TV and cranked up the sound. He giggled when a sleepy worker stumbled in and out to turn off the volume. I waited to smile until after I turned to walk out of his room.
Next: Beth and Homecoming!
8/17/2017 09:13:04 am
This is such an inspiring story. I look forward to the next chapter.
8/20/2017 09:10:47 pm
Thanks, Micki! Lots of serendipity ahead!
8/20/2017 09:23:52 pm
Hi, Deb! Thank you. It's so nice to hear that my writing resonates with readers!
Wow, Cyndi, what a job. I can picture the place and your determination to dig out from its "depressed" condition. I may have lost the thread of the story as a whole (I don't always seem to read these "in order")--was Beth still at home with her dad while you were working these 24-hour shifts (brave soul!)? Or was she away? Great story--really gives us a sense of what your life was like at this point.
8/20/2017 09:32:24 pm
Thank you, Amy! Yes, Beth was a senior in high school when I returned to work full-time. John taught school, stayed home with her in the evenings, and drove her to practices for the high school swim team. I wrote the schedule at the group home, so I made sure I was off for swim meets, school events, and Maria's college choir concerts. It was a hectic year!
7/29/2019 09:30:00 am
This is so well written! Your writing always helps the reader both visualize and feel each moment. How lucky those residents were to have you! Your empathy and kindness are part of who you are, and I'm proud to be your friend! Thanks for sharing this. Maybe one day, mental health facilities like this will be required and financially able to meet higher standards...
7/30/2019 08:52:11 pm
Aw, thanks Deb! Your friendship means so much to me! I think I did a much better job as a group home manager when I was older compared to the first one when I was nineteen. Live and learn! And you're right, the whole system needs an upgrade! Kind of like the education system. ;-)
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