Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Residential Care Centers: The 21st Century Jungle?

One of the most interesting -- and often upsetting -- parts about representing health care and social service workers was listening to stories about their working conditions -- conditions that few people are aware of and that fewer people would ever want to do, especially for the low wages.

This is what workers endure at the Latham Centers in Brewster, MA which specializes in children and adults with emotional and behavioral problems.
  • A resident threw a flower pot at a counselor. The counselor who was injured during the flower pot attack could not seek medical help because she was the only employee present

  • A week after the flower pot attack, after the union's request for additional staffing was denied, the same client bit the counselor eight times on the arms. The counselor now has nerve damage in one arm and will soon undergo surgery.

  • Last October, a counselor suffered three broken ribs after trying to restrain a violent resident. There were two counselors on duty at the time watching three residents.

  • A few months later, a resident tried to choke a staffer who was driving an agency van. In January, a resident threw feces and blood at a counselor.

  • Last weekend, a resident assaulted a counselor as he tried to restrain her. The counselor, who was working alone, had to ask another client to call a different residence for help. But the residence did not have enough staff, so the counselor asked the client to dial 911. When the Yarmouthport police arrived, the resident attacked an officer and was later charged with assault and battery.
The union representing the workers has been negotiating with management for their first contract since November 2003.

The union, of course, is making outrageous demands. They want two staff members working together on all shifts and annual cost-of-living increases. The workers currently make $12 anhour, which comes to a princely $24,000 a year. Approximately 40 percent of staff at the centers has turned over in the last 18 months.

Executive director Anne McManus says the workers are a bunch of lying greedheads:
McManus questioned whether the six incidents of assault actually occurred and said Latham Centers adheres by state regulations.

McManus said that the centers do not lack adequate staff and that the unions are focusing on the assaults because of the contentious contract negotiations. "This is just a response to the union's anxiety over getting a contract signed very quickly," she said.
This brings a number of questions to my mind:

Are people like McManus born that way, or do they have to go to school to become mean and malicious? Are they truly ignorant or just cruel?

And finally, how can anyone read an article like this or talk to these workers and still believe that unions have outlived their usefulness?