The Helping Field

Facerlyn Wheeler

� Copyright 2020 by Facerlyn Wheeler

Photo of Meharry Medical College.

I took my first job working with people right around age 20. I was terrified when someone suggested it to me, as the job would be helping individuals with physical and mental challenges. The first company I worked for the disabilities were severe and there was a lot of physical agility involved. Though I grew to love helping others, I did not enjoy the physical strain it was putting on my body often taking individuals from wheelchair to chair and then from wheelchair to and from bed.

The second job I had working with people was ultimately the best when it came down to working with individuals with disabilities. The company was set up very well structurally and proved to the people and the community that they truly valued the lives in their care. Had I been older and not had a very young child, I may have retired from this company they were so good. The next company was a royal nightmare. They had the individuals packed in what they called �cottages� and this only created the environment for constant behaviors and tension. There was a lot of �mimicking� that took place as well with the youngest of the children.

I was given my first supervisory role as Cottage Coordinator. I had 11 young men from ages 5 to 13 I believe as well as 14-20 staff. Responsible for day to day programming, inventory, staff training and discipline, as well as meal planning and direct care; striving to make a life of normalcy for those children became my ultimate goal. On one hand the children received my love so well, my staff would often joke that I was pinching them in private. Staff would report to me that when the boys saw me coming they would sit like ducks in a row. Though the children suffered from various mental and physical limitations, they were just as lively, fun, and creative as any other child.

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I had the best first shift; they would have those young men up, dressed, and fed for that bus every morning with little to no oversight. They treated the boys as their own and it showed. Second shift however, was polar opposite. Second shift pretty much consisted of younger staff who was more preoccupied in sitting together discussing their personal lives than providing quality care and supervision for the boys. It was this shift that helped me to develop my disciplinary skills. I remember terminating a staff found guilty of pinching one of the boys and leaving marks. She came back to the job at the end of my shift in an attempt to fight me. I wanted out the door so bad; however, my staff would not allow me to jeopardize my job like that.

I fought with the direct care staff and management to make sure those young boys were treated like and looked like any other child. I showed the staff how to divide and conquer and engage them in activities that helped their development not kept them busy. I purchased clothing, shoes, food, and bedding for the boys out of my own money my entire time as a Cottage Coordinator. I ultimately worked with the medical team to get medications discontinued or decreased in order to give the boys optimum growth opportunities. This is where it all cost me my job. What I didn�t recognize at the time (and it wouldn�t have made a hill of beans) was that each medication supported a diagnosis and when they lost the diagnosis their checks were lowered, costing the company money. It wasn�t very long after that they fired me for talking down on the company with another employee.

It was at that point when I made college a priority. I had to reduce the overhead staff so less people could stop me from doing everything I could to help others. While working on my Associates degree, I took on home health jobs as an aide. I would help prepare dinner, clean, and sometimes do some personal care for the individuals in their home. I was asked not to report back to a woman for making her bed the wrong way that tickled my soul. I had so many residents asked me to work for them directly that it made things very difficult. One lady could not afford to keep paying the agency and I agreed to stop by and do things for her on my own. The company found out and I was terminated. That wouldn�t be the last time I jeopardized my job for the sake of others in my care.

After the youth, I went to do activities at a couple nursing homes. At one nursing home I worked on the critical care unit where most patients were either vent or tracheal patients and most were terminal. I was reprimanded for spending too much time with my patients. That floored me. I couldn�t change who I am so I started going in before my shift and staying after my shift to spend time with my dying patients. I would do everything from rubbing patient�s feet with lotion, to playing soothing music, as well as providing sensory and auditory connections, and even feeding sips of Pepsi to a special lady dying from ovarian cancer. I knew what every sip of that Pepsi meant to her. Not sure how I left that job, but I�m sure I quit due to the same stipulations I mentioned before.

The next nursing home I went to do activities, I was told after they hired me that they almost did not hire me due to the braids in my hair and the ignorant stigma behind African American hairstyles. The nursing home was horrible and many residents begged me daily to take them home with me. I cried to the administration to no avail. The infractions were so severe that I had to call them in to department of public health multiple times. They were ultimately shut down and that was the best thing that could have ever happened. The place was renamed twice I believe before the building was eventually demolished.

I landed a job in a call center and was there until I left to work for a 24 hour residential treatment facility for adolescents. I was the second shift Crisis Response Supervisor which was really code for the lead fire fighter. The culture upon my arrival was basically catch, confront, restrain, and report. The boys were getting stronger from each restraint and the girls saw it as a way to challenge the typically young, female staff. The violence and staff injury ratio was quite high and I was in no mood to sustain an injury on the job. Shortly after I started this job, I left a relationship of six years after things just weren�t connecting between us and she met someone else. I poured myself into my work and an overnight supervisor!!

Following the same protocol I did working with developmentally disabled youth, I challenged the youth to acknowledge the emotions behind the behaviors and learn to explain and explore with less aggressive results. I did a lot of therapeutic walks and self awareness activities. The staff often challenged me for not being so quick to do those ineffective restraints every single shift. However, whenever it was deemed necessary, I ensured all staff felt important, valued, and protected. We would remain after the shift and debrief whenever the night was rough, which was quite frequently there. I ultimately ended up calling the news after reporting all the way up the chain of command and even to DCFS about staff molesting the youth, sending them to steal, allowing the boys to have sex with the girls, and many other unsafe practices. DCFS decided to cover their own asses and close the facility down rather than work to correct the infractions. Many of the youth were released to the streets with little to no direction.

My next role in the helping field was a Foster Care Case Aide. With this job I transported children from their foster homes to visits with their parents either at the office or in the parents� home. Most of this job was fairly easy and gave me time to work on my course work once I started my Bachelor�s program. I would have foster children ask me if they could just hang with me rather than go see their parent and others that I would transport hours away to a prison only to find out for whatever reason the visit couldn�t occur. To see those children crying and breaking down for that bond with mom/dad was heartbreaking at times. When I saw the Case Manager side of the job, I knew I did not want to stay in the field. Going to court against parents and making decisions that serious for children�s lives was just too much for me. Know your limits.

After getting my Bachelor�s degree, the supervisor I had at the time was not giving me my one dollar whopping raise that I was entitled to after achieving my Bachelor�s Degree. The supervisor of the crisis nursery found out I was displeased and offered me a position at the crisis nursery. This was the best job of my life. Intake, direct care, curriculum implementation, community service, and parenting classes; I truly would have been at this job for years and years had it not been for my son needing over five thousand in tuition monies to go to college even after receiving several scholarships. So I left the crisis nursery and returned to nursing home care as the pay is double that of pay working with children. The notion of paying more for elderly than children is totally backwards thinking in my mind.

My first title back in the nursing home field was that of Behavioral Health Counselor. I was assigned to the females unit but asked to switch to the males when a new counselor came on. I held individual and group sessions for the residents as well as getting them connected to other necessary resources. Once again, I realized how people were over medicated and failing to thrive beyond the containment of the unit. I started helping some of the individuals work towards discharge to a more apartment or group home like setting. I wasn�t on this unit very long because when I would need to go off the unit into the long term care area, I always stopped to converse and help those residents where I could. I never made it as though I could only serve the residents on my unit as I love helping people. I still recall when they came to get me for the interview; I was engulfed in a conversation with one of the residents that just happened to be sitting up front. The lady who was the Director of Social Services for long term used to pick on me all the time. I truly became bothered by it after some time and made an attempt to report her to the administrator who just laughed it off. I told that Social Service Director I would have her job and when she announced that she was leaving to go and care for her sick dad, the administrator offered me the position and I gladly accepted.

You could say I was truly in my element. It was almost as much so as when I worked at the crisis nursery. I had close to 200 residents and I made it my priority to get to know each and every one as well as their families or lack of. My residents made my days as bright as they say I made theirs. They made me things and tried to buy me things and really made it hard for people to figure out that I was staff and not family. I would help out in activities, housekeeping, laundry, and dietary. Whatever was going to help the residents and the people that took the best care of them, I was willing to do without being asked. I came early and stayed late and loved every minute of it.

New administration came in and things that were crucial started being cut or sacrificed to save the budget. Smaller cups and less time led to residents not getting water and an up rise in UTI�s. Short staffing led to an absence of shower and patient care that needed to be done. There were times I had to close doors or pull curtains and do bed baths and feedings otherwise those residents would not have eaten. Medication errors, unreported injuries, staff stealing from residents, it became overwhelming. The administration had zero compassion for people and it showed. I was completing my Master�s degree and had decided when I was done I would resign. I contacted the department of public health multiple times but the facility had a way, as most do, of knowing just what to do and say to get out of the fines and remain open. The truth of the matter is there aren�t enough places to put the people for public health to even begin to truthfully address the amount of elder abuse happening in these nursing homes.

I started a STARS program to reward the staff that went above and beyond, giving them $5 gift cards out of my own money. I would order food for the children of staff willing to come in or stay over when we were short staffed. I bought phones and chargers for residents after staff would steal theirs. I would have to go outside and walk for minutes at a time and even started smoking cigarettes to avoid becoming physical with some of the pathetic nursing and administrative staff in that nursing home. I knew it was time for me to move on before I became the bad guy. Due to an online relationship progressing, I gave my thirty day notice and left the company and state.

I left Rockford for a short time before returning and eventually landing a job at a nursing facility as a Psych Rehab Director. The lower level of the home was designated for the elderly and the upper level was where the residents with psychological challenges were housed. As the Psych Rehab Director I was responsible for a team of 10 or 12 as well as the offender�s list, intake and discharge, and upholding the facility policies and procedures. The facility was very ill managed and many of the staff were former felons and not properly trained or disciplined. The infractions were many but the pay was great. After the fall I took moving to Missouri for love, I needed this leg up financially and so I tried to �go along to get along.� As with many positions, I went above and beyond and was told they never saw the previous Director so present. In time, I realized why that was not the best decision. My last day worked there was the day I was trying to uphold the no smoking in the room policy with a large African American male who was mixing street drugs with alcohol and not taking his psychotropic medications. This man became upset with me and walked behind me out of his room and to the nurse�s station. He hit me in my head so hard that the emergency room doctor told me it was within inches of my occipital nerve; which would have ultimately blinded me. I asked the facility to have him arrested and removed and they refused. The unemployment officer was so irate that she attacked them the entire call for not putting measures in place to ensure my safety as well as the safety of others and that was the first time in life that I was able to get unemployment.

Again, I lost all hope in Rockford and this time I moved to Nashville, Tennessee with my mother. Here, I landed a job as a Program Coordinator at an African American Medical College. I was in charge of recruiting, enrolling, and sustaining clients in a psycho social program designed to help those who were HIV positive and/or high risk for the virus. The program required a six to eight week commitment with weekly visits. I was the only one in the Middle Tennessee area that was able to successfully enroll and complete the required number of participants mandated in the grant. United Way told me that they pulled the grant from everyone but me. I was able to organize and implement a webinar on recruitment and retention as well as traveled to California several times to present as an adjunct facilitator. When the infectious disease doctor learned of my accomplishments he brought me on in his clinic to conduct surveys with participants to determine what caused them to drop out of care. I was able to complete the 100 participant requirement for the study, within the allotted time to do so. I was told I would get honorable mention in a scholarly article but have yet to hear anything more about it. I left the college after I was lied to about a raise I was to get for all the additional duties. I was not able to live on that salary in Nashville and I�m not sure how anyone could.

After working a few months at a treatment center in Los Angeles and returning to Nashville to drive for Nissan (which I loved so much, minus the weather), I landed a job as a Resident Services Coordinator at a low income high rise on the east side of Nashville. From the start, I fell into my role head first; building relationships, getting needs met and services in place, and making sure the residents were in the best care possible. I saw so many infractions by the maintenance and property management it was almost as bad as the nursing homes. It all came to a head for me there and ultimately led to a slight nervous breakdown when the property was flooded with septic sewage all over the carpets, ceilings, etc. The property wanted to spare the money and put the hundreds of residents, and staff at risk. My co-worker resigned immediately and I tried to stay the course and see it through. After getting zero support from my supervision team I went to see a therapist and never returned to that role.

Made it back to Rockford before losing my entire mind, and after months of awaiting a back ground clearance, I began my position as an Early Head Start Home Visitor teacher. Working with prenatal moms and children birth to three is a dream come true. It is my ultimate dream job, being able to do more than just teach the children or counsel the parents. In this role I get to do it all. I help families connect to resources, address their personal afflictions, create stronger bonds between parent/child, introduce age appropriate activities for parent and child to increase growth and development, support parents in being the child�s first teacher and advocate, complete referrals for specialized services, complete developmental screening, and parent teacher conferences, and outright love on babies. It is a dream come true after all I�ve cycled through. We are currently under lockdown in my state due to COVID-19 and it has truly affected my mental health not being able to get to those babies and interact. I truly love helping others.

My name is Facerlyn LaShawn Wheeler. I am 45 year old African American female born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My mother was married when she slept with my father and therefore has not given me any information as to whom my father is. I have 5 siblings, 2 older than me and 3 younger than me. My mother was in and out of abusive relationships and married nine times which left me alone a lot. I did everything developmentally at an early age and my grandmother would often say I had been here before or that I had an old soul. 2 out of 3 of my brothers have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and all of us girls have some sort of mental health diagnosis as well. My mother was an undiagnosed and untreated mental health crisis all in one. I have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Severe Depression, and most recently; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the age of 13, I began isolating and by age 16 I was sent to an inpatient program which ultimately saved my life. At 17 I became pregnant and refused to have the abortion my mom insisted on so I was dropped on the father of my child�s doorstep. He turned to drugs and I became a single mother and lesbian. Growing up as a single mother who was also a masculine lesbian led to a lot of drama, conflict, violence, anxiety, and depressing situations. I struggled with homelessness, cannabis abuse, and panic attacks. I was told several times to give up the fight, move into housing, draw disability, and take the easy road. My God said no and I lived to be a blessing and beacon of light to others. It hasn�t been easy but I�m still here and despite all the oppression and obstacles, I�ve managed to earn 3 degrees, several awards, leadership roles, outstanding performance reviews and a wave of good emotions.

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