Success is a ladder you cannot climb with your hands in your pockets. ~American Proverb
This is one of those months I am going to follow my idol’s, Rachel Maddow, format. For those of you who do not watch Rachel, her format is to start out with unrelated topic(s) and ending with a subject that ties it all together.
In my former life, I worked as a surgical technologist at UW Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. During my ten years there, the words “on call” and the sound of the Med Flight helicopter flying overhead produced an adrenaline surge so intense all I could do was pace and wait for my pager to go off. If it did, I’d rush to the hospital where my training would meet with the adrenaline and I felt like I could handle anything. If it didn’t go off, I’d lay awake just waiting…and waiting….and waiting. Just as most things are in life, the known was much easier to deal with than the unknown. I am quite happy those “on call” adrenaline rushes are a thing of the past.
I believe I have referred to the three musketeers of Frederick Place in the past. For those who do not know, Tammy came up with this to refer to the three of us who have been working together since day one. (That would be Tammy, Becca, and yours truly). Well, the other two musketeers left town for several days at the same time and so, by default, the words “on call” entered my life for the first time since my career as a surgical technologist came to an end. I must admit that for a fleeting moment I felt a little adrenaline rush before the reality sunk in that being on call at Frederick Place did not involve rushing to work while, praying not to get pulled over and mentally checking off what actions and supplies I would need. Being on call at Frederick Place generally involves covering staff who are sick, processing with staff on duty how best to handle a resident disciplinary issue, or request and discussing potential resident’s background check. I did not look at being on call as suddenly having a position of authority. I have simply been here the longest and have knowledge of our history and precedent. I was honored to be thought capable of taking call for an extended period.
As you all know, Frederick Place is a large beautiful older home that could have been transformed into a bed and breakfast establishment. The most frustrating individuals are those who arrive and literally think we are what the house looks like - a bed and breakfast. They quickly find out we are not. There are shelters that simply house people, and many of them have been in shelters just like that. We are here to give a hand up, not a hand-out. We have had great success since opening our doors in 2011 because we have a schedule and requirements in place. Not fulfilling some required tasks can result in disciplinary action. Our rules and consequences are in place not because we are power hungry, rather as tools to motivate residents. We have found that many have had little to no structure or accountability. We provide both as it lets residents realize that we are serious about their future and they need to be too.
Residents have individualized goals they must work towards completing. We are here to guide them, but they must do the work. We require that all residents turn in a search sheet every Monday morning showing what activities they did to work towards self-sufficiency. Residents are expected to be up and checked in with staff on duty by 8 am and in their room by 11 pm. They are not allowed to go back to bed or fall asleep in the comfy recliner. Of course, exceptions are made for illness and work schedules.
Historically, the “B&B resident” does not like what is required of them at all. They often develop behaviors such as being frequently ill, putting things off until tomorrow, missing check-in and are always tired. They spend more time worrying about others than themselves. A “B & B resident” will turn in a complete search sheet but can’t remember any details of an apartment they called about or a job application they filled out. These individuals are often ones who are somewhat stuck in the frame of mind that everything has happened to them. They blame people, places, or events for their current situation. This creates an attitude of powerlessness and the belief that their lives will never improve - so why bother doing anything? This type of resident may be labeled a shelter hopper, and their belief that they are powerless has worked in other places so they expect it to work here. Unfortunately, many of these residents have undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses. That said, they have carefully crafted a past that they will go to any length to defend and protect as their truth. We aren’t mental health professionals so some of this is not apparent until we start wanting black and white proof of their activities.
When staff does pick up on this and start asking for some sort of proof one of four things will happen:
- The resident will realize we are serious and do what is asked of them
- The resident will continue living the B & B life until they accrue enough points and are told their stay is terminated.
- The resident will decide we are not the place for them and leave on their own
- The resident will target staff.
The #4 resident is the toughest to deal with because they typically target the staff that has helped them the most. Some sort of connection developed, and the resident prefers to deal primarily with that staff person. When the person they see as having their backs suddenly begins asking for black and white proof of an activity, it does not go over well. They become paranoid and concoct a scheme they think will turn things around in their favor. Their plan of attack towards the person who is getting too close to the truth is to twist words or tell outright lies to other residents and staff. It is almost like they don’t think we talk to each other and believe they can drive a wedge between us with their false narrative. More than one has told me that they were going to get me fired. We have had some go so far as to come at us physically. When a resident carries it to these extremes it becomes more than apparent that we are no longer the place for them. The resident usually agrees, but we have had to contact our friends across the street more than once. (Frederick Place is literally across the street from the Rhinelander Police Department.) After the resident is gone, there is the aftermath. The targeted staff member and all, including other residents, are emotionally upset, angry and hurt. The hurt is what lasts the longest. It leaves you a tad gun shy when it comes to developing connections by sharing of yourself with a resident. It is not a comfortable spot to be in at all.
The challenge of every team is to build a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another because the question is usually not how well each person performs, but how well they work together.
While the other two musketeers were away and I was on call, we had a #4 resident. Three of us were in the line of fire, one more than the other two. One of us was the target of a resident who said extremely dishonest, hurtful things to and about them. The resident’s words also caused mama bear anger in two of us. We each took a turn at being verbally assaulted and saved each other from ourselves when we wanted to immediately act instead of reacting. Together we got through it. We talked, offered advice, and took care of each other. My only regret is not being more empathetic having been through this situation more than once. It was a good reminder and a lesson I won’t soon forget.
When all was said and done, I received a message from one of the two apologizing for handling the situation on her own rather than asking my opinion. I laughed out loud as I said “hell no” when I received it. I can say with certainty that the outcome would have been the same because we are a team with a feeling of oneness. I think St. Vince would agree.
In closing, and in honor of Springsteen’s 70
Thanks for everythin, Ladies! I love you with all the madness in my soul!