Monday, February 25, 2013

Red Carpet, Beyond the Gates, and 60 Minutes

Today I'm officially 57 years old! Never, in my wildest imaginings did I see myself alive at 57. I still find it hard to believe that I made it this far! But what I want to write about today, is not about my birthday, it's about my final day of being 56.

Yesterday was very interesting. From 4:00 PM until I awakened at 4:30 AM this morning. At 4 yesterday afternoon I sat on the couch in our living room and turned on the TV. It's something I do most days. The TV was tuned to the "Red Carpet" part of the Academy Award proceedings, so I decided to check it out. Mind blowing!

The co hosts were on some kind of a rooftop looking down on the Hollywood stars as they appeared. Then the show would swoop down to interviews with the stars; mostly about their attire. These people are (I'm convinced) so full of themselves, that they've crossed over into sheer clinical Narcissism! Posing with their Gucci dresses and handbags, like they were God's gifts to humanity. And when they spoke... It was so forced and phony, that I could only watch the show for 15 minutes, before I left... thoroughly disgusted.

At that point I though it wise to watch something a bit more "human", so I put on a movie I'd copied on my DVR some time back. The title is "Beyond the Gates", and it's a film about the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. How the UN "Peacekeepers" all but deserted the Tsutsis as they were murdered by Hutus with machetes and clubs. It was pretty upsetting until the very end, when it was revealed that several actors in the film were survivors of the genocide. They told you exactly what these people had lost, and I in turn "lost it" myself... crying for the next 10 minutes.

When I'd finally composed myself, I looked back at the TV, which was showing the most recent episode of 60 Minutes. Scott Pelley was interviewing this guy who wrote the scandalous book about killing Bin Laden a few years back. If I ever have to bat at softball again, I want old Scott to be the pitcher. It was indeed a surreal interview with the story becoming more UNbelievable at each turn. In the end, back on set, they talked about how "angry" the military is at this author for betraying state secrets, that they may sue him! While Bradley Manning rots away in prison (for being accused of doing the same thing) for over 1000 days, they are considering suing this clown. Alrighty...

Finally went to bed, exhausted by 8:00. Had several symbolic dreams... I was flying with an old crow which was the same size as me. I went to a place where there were "Hagots" and "Hurgs". They were 2 separate groups of people with the Hagots being deemed the superior group. I woke up at 11:59, knowing I was from neither group, and my job was to teach them that neither are they. Later I woke up saying out loud "trust" 4 times. I also was in a shallow river where the rocks on the bottom hurt my feet. I got out rather than continuing to hurt them. 3 or 4 others I was with continued in the shallow river. I ended up waking for good with the knowledge that THIS YEAR would lead me to a place I've never been. Wild, huh?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How Dare I Ask For TRUTH??


I used to have a wonderful career working with people who have developmental disabilities. I’m not sure exactly why I loved my work as much as I did, and I’m not sure why I felt it was the most important work that I could do, but I did. Something that always seemed to be the MOST important part of the work for me was watching for abuse and neglect of care for folks who could often not speak for themselves.

I honestly believe that the end of my career came back in 2007, when I asked a question regarding the accountability for the abuse and neglect of folks as reported in The Oregonian newspaper. I became a “persona non grata” in the field because I wanted to know the truth. What follows is how it all panned out. I know it’s a lot to read, but I also know it’s well worth it.

Back on November 11th of 2007 I sent out the email below. This was in response to an Oregonian article highlighting horrific behaviors of people paid to protect folks with developmental disabilities in our state.

I was (and continue to be) very concerned that the accountability for these actions was being placed on the abusers, while the higher-ups in the system who run things and are paid to know what’s going on, were all but ignored. I believed then, as I do now, that what is needed is a Legislative Hearing to see if there was a cover up to preserve people’s jobs, rather than expose the truth to the light of day.

I sent this email to Tim Krall of The Oregon Association of Rehabilitation, Bob Joondeph of Oregon Advocacy Center, James Toewes of Seniors and People with Disabilities, Tina Kitchen of the Department of Human Services, Bill Lynch of the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities, and the Oregon Network through the DD Coalition. All these folks held the answers to questions that needed to be answered.

I also cc’d the letter to State Representatives Mary Nolan and Tina Kotek, along with Senators Avel Gordly, David Nelson, and Margaret Carter. I sent a copy to Bruce Goldberg, Director of DHS, and about 100 community members. My hope in doing that was I believed the letter might stir them to action. To the best of my knowledge I was wrong in both my hope and belief. In fact, I never heard back from any of these people regarding my letter.

We are living in a state where both accountability and transparency are virtually nonexistent. The people in Oregon are so concerned with not upsetting the apple cart (status quo), that they’d rather allow domestic violence, financial exploitation, medical neglect, and the abuse of developmentally disabled citizens to have gone unchecked than to seek accountability. That disturbs me to no end. And whoever reads this... what expectations do you have of those charged with protecting our most vulnerable? Is it ok with you that we just “move forward” without seeing why things went wrong in the first place, in order to TRULY move forward in a sane way? Are Oregonians in fact, cowards?


Dear Advocates,

We are nearing the end of the week following the article in Sunday’s Oregonian regarding the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with developmental disabilities who were deinstitutionalized in Oregon. I want to be perfectly clear that I believe people with disabilities should never have been forced to live in institutions, but it's equally clear that Oregon has not held up its end of the bargain. I continue to Google “abuse neglect Oregon” searching for some kind of statement by any, some, or all of you. I’ve found none. The closest I’ve come to finding anything at all about this issue is a letter to the editor of the Oregonian from Tim Kral, which I’ll address further in this email. The people I’ve cc’d have been sent this in order to have as broad a conversation as possible.

The article itself speaks volumes. The quotes from some of you raise questions that I will ask here. Feel free to leave me without the answers, which is customary in the culture of secrecy that is the developmental disability system in Oregon. The reason for this email is to begin an honest assessment of where we are in Oregon around the issues brought up in Michele Roberts’ article. Any enlightenment or clarification any of you might share with me is most welcomed.

The first most glaring question is who of you knew about the extent of the abuse and neglect prior to the interviews and ensuing article?

Since the data goes back to 2000, what actions did you take to remedy the situation PRIOR to the article?

What actions have been taken since the article?

Who wrote the Oregon Network’s bulletin of 3/26/07 with the talking points about how well the people from Fairview are doing living in the community?

Was the writer(s) aware of what the truth is when that bulletin went out?

Why is there no mention of this travesty on the DD Coalition/Oregon Network website?

Were negligent homicide or criminal neglect charges ever discussed or filed by any of you who knew about the David Pape/Natasha Thomas death?

Did any of you question the change of the Cause of Death from drowning to pneumonia?

Did any of you know Pape was being paid $18,000 per month for running his foster home?

I knew Paul Crawford. He was a very warm and outgoing man. In my last job I worked closely with one of his roommates from Rainbow. This man has some serious behavioral issues. I guess it was the staff I used to meet with monthly who were given the $5000 worth of “bonuses” his mother intended for the residents.

Were they ever required to return their “bonuses” to Paul’s mother?

Were any of his group home staff charged with anything?

Dr. Kitchens, do you REALLY believe that if someone vomits a black-colored substance that “most people” wouldn’t recognize it as possibly being blood, and take action?

Do you also really believe that the delay of getting the right language into a document relieves DHS of responsibility for immediately implementing a mandatory 911 training for caregivers?

Does anyone believe that Paul lying in a bed full of feces, vomit and urine; with enough urine on the floor to make someone almost slip is not criminal, but is what you’d expect from most people in the same situation?

If his workers were found to be responsible for his death, why were they still working at that home in 2006? The three I’m familiar with were all there longer than 3 years.

Mr. Lynch, you are quoted as saying; “It’s a tragedy. We really need to turn this around. This goes well beyond embarrassment”.

Why are you embarrassed?

Did you not know about this systemic travesty prior to Ms. Roberts talking to you?

You now have a state email address. Are you an employee of the state?

Why is there no mention of this travesty on the OCDD website?

Mr. Toews, you are quoted as saying; “We’ve tried to approach how we safely support people with pretty complex needs. We’ve done as good if not a better job than most states on trying to drill down on that”.

Is it not true that when I contacted you in regard to a grievance against Multnomah County staff about a profoundly developmentally disabled woman last year, you allowed them to circumvent the Oregon Administrative Rules?

Was that “drilling down” on safely supporting her needs?

Are you afraid that now that the truth has been told, Oregon will not be looked upon as the model state you often talk about?

Why is there no mention of this travesty on the DHS website?

Mr. Joondeph, did you tell Ms. Roberts that both you personally, and Oregon Advocacy Center investigate abuse and neglect allegations?

How many do you personally investigate each year?

Did you tell Ms. Roberts the County licenses foster homes, when in reality the state does that job?

Did you tell her county case managers do investigations, when in reality Protective Services and your agency does that job?

Does OAC plan to file a class action against the state which will prevent INDIVIDUALS from stepping forward to sue?

If so, does OAC plan to settle out of court?

If so, will it result in agreeing to wait for reform?

If so, will OAC set up an Ombudsman program as part of that settlement?

Would that expand your powers in Oregon?

Why is there no mention of this travesty on the OAC website?

Mr Kral, in your letter to the editor of the Oregonian you wrote “The Oregon Rehabilitation Association represents community nonprofit organizations providing group homes”.

How many of these organizations does ORA represent?

You mentioned that ORA “supports immediate steps to enhance the care and living conditions of individuals with disabilities.”

As the “representative,” is it not your place to "demand" rather than "support"?

Was there a step ORA could have taken when the Legislature only gave DD Services 20 million instead of the 65 million dollars originally requested of them last year?

Why did you fail to mention that in your letter?

Did you mention the abuse and neglect travesty when you made your request?

Would that step have assisted you in enhancing the care and living conditions of people with disabilities?

You wrote that wages for group home workers are low. Is that also the case for group home representatives such as ORA?

Why is there such a disparity?

You said turnover is high with group home staff. Is the same true with representatives?

Why is that not the same?

How much time do you actually spend with the individuals living in these group homes?
You wrote that workers in group homes need to be more accountable. To whom do they need to be more accountable?

Do representatives such as ORA, OAC, OCDD, The Oregon DD Coalition, and DHS need to be more accountable?

Finally, you wrote that “the vast majority of former Fairview residents have enjoyed a much higher quality of life since leaving.”

I don’t believe that this “glass is 4/5 full” philosophy makes one bit of difference to the 1 in 5 who have been seriously abused and/or neglected. If you look at the numbers closely, nearly 50% have had abuse and or neglect charges substantiated, with many more alleged. I’m certain that being in the community beats being at Fairview, but by how much when you run this high a risk of being abused and/or neglected?

Who exactly are ORA’s state partners?

Did DHS hide the data around abuse and neglect or did no one ask?

Are you an employee of the state?

Why is there no mention of this travesty on the ORA website?

These questions are hard. I am well aware of that. However, in light of the article written by Michelle Roberts, I believe hard questions need to be asked. My questions are not “personal attacks”. They are, in fact, questions that need to be answered if system reform is to occur. It’s obvious that system reform that includes real accountability must occur if we are going to do anything about the neglect, abuse, and exploitation of people with developmental disabilities in Oregon. The conversation must begin immediately, and must include caregivers, individuals receiving care, their families, friends and personal advocates. It must not happen behind closed doors, among a secret society that has yet to truly acknowledge the urgency.


David McDonald
DAWG Oregon


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Wizard of Words

I heard one of the most profound statements I’ve heard in years a few weeks back. It came from one of my all-time favorite movies “The Wizard of Oz”.
It was when Dorothy first met the Scarecrow. She asked him what was wrong, as he was hanging on his post. His reply was that he was upset because he didn’t have a brain. She told him it was ok that he didn’t have a brain, but wondered how he could talk without one. 

His reply was classic! He said “I don’t know, but people talk all the time without having a brain”. Never have truer words been spoken.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

My One Regret In Life

It seems that one loss or one win (in early years), can sometimes map out some one's future. I think that's what happened to me during my high school years. I suffered a major loss that set in motion a lot of negativity for me in the years to follow.

Going back to a few years earlier, I can tell you I always felt different. I felt like there was no place for me, where I could fit in. I could speculate as to why that was the case, but opening up this particular can of worms will suffice for now.

I'd always played sports in my youth. My favorites were basketball, baseball, and football. Typical for kids in my hometown. I was pretty good at each one, and divided my time fairly evenly among the three. I played organized baseball from the time I was 7 or 8. Organized football came into my life a bit later at 9 or 10. And organized basketball began in 6th grade. Soon as I tried it I fell in love with the sport, and all but gave up on the others.

Basketball became everything to me. If I wasn't on a court somewhere, I could be found daydreaming about playing. The season itself was too short, so I practiced any time and anywhere I could to ready myself for next season. I'd guess that 80% of my friends liked playing basketball, but I loved it. By the time I reached high school I was secretly dreaming of someday playing in the NBA.

In my town at the time, basketball was probably the most popular sport. Southampton, NY, was known throughout the state and beyond, to be a hotbed for basketball talent and success. The 60's and 70's were the years I'm talking about here. Anyway; to play for the Mariners at that time was an honor that 24 boys enjoyed each year. Making the Varsity or J.V. teams was no easy task.

As a freshman, I went out for the J.V. team, and actually made it! I was thrilled beyond words, and looked forward to putting on a uniform and playing. I did good. In several games I was the 6th or 7th man, and got a chance to start one game. My coach was an odd fellow. He didn't seem able to relate to kids, and always acted unhappy. I tried not to let it bother me, but no matter what I, or other guys on the team did, was never enough. In fact, I'm sure our team only lost 1 game all season.

Here's where the story gets weird. I was close friends with 3 or 4 guys on the team. Beside basketball, we often hung out socially. In the locker room at the end of the last game of the season, one of these guys LOUDLY said "Hey Davy, are we gonna get stoned before practice next year?" I said nothing in reply as the coach had just walked in and surely heard him. As usual the coach said nothing, but gave me an icey stare. The crazy thing is that I didn't even smoke pot at the time!

The following year I went out for the team again. I was a bit nervous but figured if the coach had concerns, hopefully he'd have said something to one or both of us. TryOuts was a 3 day process where the names of the guys who made the team would be posted at the end, on the locker room door. Within I hour of the first day, I sprained my ankle, and spent the next week on crutches. I talked to my friends who assured me that I'd make the team based on the previous year's accomplishment.

When the list of who made the team went up, my name was not on it. I went to the coach's office and asked why. I reminded him of how well I'd done the year before, but he didn't say much. When I was done all he said was "If I put you on the team, who should I take off?" If he expected me to rattle off names of kids I was better than, I wasn't about to. I think he knew that before he even asked me. So that was that. No basketball for me... for that year anyway.

I was very pissed off about not making the team, and began working on my game harder than If I'd made the team. I worked so hard that by the time the next years TryOuts came around I was ready! I had better be. This was for the Varsity! From the first minute of the first day, I was good. Not to blow my horn, but I was great! All throughout I was absolutely one of the best players on the court. I was fast, smart, smooth and stood out. The varsity coach was even using me as an example of how to play the game right. It felt good!

This year at the end of the 3rd day the coach gathered everyone together to sit on the bleachers. He began to speak..." I know that some of you dribble and pass better than others" as he looked directly at me... "but I have to think of the reputation of our school. Not all of you are going to make this team, and thanks for trying out, but I have the reputation to think of first". That was all I needed to hear. Sure enough, my name didn't show up on the door and I was crushed.

Did I take it hard? Damn right I took it extremely hard. Those coaches STOLE MY DREAM! From then on I lost the ability to care too much about anything. I let resentment (bordering on hatred) rule my life for the next 15 or so years. I finally found my way out (slowly) in my early 30's, but the one big regret in life is how I let that experience control me for so many years.