Yes, it’s true. Shocking as it may sound, for the past two years I’ve been leading a double life. While my evenings and weekends blogging have been surrounded in creativity, beauty and truth, my days have been immersed in deception, lies, drug abuse, mental and physical abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
For the last 8 years, between the hours of 7:30 AM and 5:00 PM, I have worked full-time for the State of Georgia as a Case Manager with Adult Protective Services. What does an APS Case Manager do? The “book” definition is: investigate reported cases of neglect, exploitation and abuse against individuals who are elderly or disabled. What an APS CM actually does on a day-to-day basis pretty much defies description.
Ask any Case Manager and they will most likely tell you they never discuss their work with family or friends. If you do, they don’t know what to say. They simply look at you in dumbfounded silence and shake their heads. Anyone who has done casework could write a book, and I promise you, it would be a page turner.
You frequent all the neighborhoods people normally avoid. You try to go early in the day, when it tends to be less dangerous. Your cellphone is filled with the phone numbers of detectives, police and county deputies because you call on them from time to time to escort you on visits, that is if you are lucky enough to have been forewarned of the danger that awaits. Mostly you go alone and sometimes you wish you hadn’t.
As an Adult Protective Services Case Manager, you get used to being threatened and cursed…a lot. There’s the occasional warning e-mail from your fellow Case Manager saying don’t answer the door or open it if a man or woman fitting this description finds the office. Threats have been made. It seems family members who are taking Grandma’s money or abusing their elderly parent don’t always appreciate Case Managers coming around and asking a bunch of questions. Those type cases were sadly frequent and they all too often involved drug abuse. Sometimes the clients are the ones abusing the drugs. They don’t like State workers poking around either. Did you know there are more people addicted to prescription drugs now than heroin, cocaine and ecstasy combined?
During the 8 years I’ve worked as an Adult Protective Services Case Manager, I’ve been chased to my car by mentally disturbed clients more than once. Mental Health agencies are overworked and underfunded, so many of the referrals APS handles are for mentally ill individuals, alcoholics and drug addicts.
I’ve been chased by dogs, but that was better than the times I was chased to my car by family members of clients who were begging for money for drugs. I’ve been threatened, cursed and followed by abusers who only the day before were in jail. It’s really inconvenient when the referral source forgets to mention things like prison records and guns.
I once found myself in a room with a very-intoxicated client who was fighting with his brother over a loaded gun my client had just pulled out from under a sofa cushion. I had asked his brother to meet me there to help me convince him to move out of the basement apartment from which he was soon to be evicted. As my client wildly waved his loaded gun around in the air, boasting that no one had dare cross him, I debated my options: I could throw myself on the filthy, encrusted floor or make a run for the door.
Once, I was attacked by a mentally disturbed man living in a Personal Care Home where I was visiting my disabled client. He ran from across the room, raised his arms and fists high into the air and brought them down hard across my arm. As my arm began to turn red and swell, the caregiver with whom I had been talking panicked. She began screaming and all but shoved me out the front door. It was surreal.
I wasn’t the only Case Manager in my office who had been attacked. Another CM who had been doing case work for 25 + years, went to counseling for a while after her attack, eventually changing to a desk job to finish out her time until retirement.
During my 8 years with APS, I visited homes many times that were immediately condemned the day after I was finally able to convince my client to move. Some counties refuse to condemn a home while someone is still living there, no matter how much of the roof is gone and no matter how big the holes in the floor.
I’ve been in homes, so many homes, where every. square. inch. was crawling in roaches–the walls, the furniture, the lamps, everything. You learn early on to not sit or put your purse down or you will leave with lots of new friends. I once had hundreds of them pour out onto my lap from a book I was handed by a client. Thankfully, I was wearing pants that day. Roaches are bad but not nearly as scary as rats crawling on rafters in caved-in ceilings overhead.
I’ve been inside homes where police stood outside and warned me about going in because they had just moments before run out vomiting due to the conditions of the home. The worst homes were the ones where the clients would not walk their dogs so the floors were soaked in urine and encrusted in feces. From the road these homes always looked nice and normal…but they were far from it. The homes where the floors were covered in feces were always the worst, worse than the roaches and rats. And then there were the hoarders. I was not surprised to read recently that there are now three shows on television about hoarders. I have definitely seen my share over the years.
There’s a huge misconception that Case Managers who do Adult Protective Services work spend their days helping “sweet, little, old ladies.” Those cases are rare and precious. Mostly we find ourselves futilely attempting to assist individuals who due to mental illness, alcoholism or drug abuse (sometimes all three) have burned every imaginable bridge in their life, often alienating everyone they have ever known, including their own children.
A couple of months ago I had a new referral that was a caregiver neglect case. I found myself driving my non-4-wheel-drive SUV deep into the woods down a densely wooded gravel and dirt driveway, a driveway the deputy I had called for assistance, refused to go down.
Both sides of the driveway as far as the eye could see, were covered with large, deep, water-filled holes. The deputy told me his sheriff’s car was brand new and only had 42 miles on it, 16 when he got it that morning, and he didn’t want to get it damaged. I rode with one set of wheels in the woods and the other set along the top ridge of the center. When the appointment was over, the deputy was still there, waiting at the top of the drive in case he heard screams for help from deep in the woods.
I could go on and on and on with stories of the past eight years…stories of drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, physical abuse and mental abuse…so many trips to emergency rooms, behavioral facilities, nursing homes, and jails…hours spent in probate court and in guardianship hearings. But if I do, you’ll just stare and shake your head in disbelief. I know, because that’s what I would do if I hadn’t lived it these past eight years.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, because you are my friends and I thought you should know, there’s been a huge change in my life, a tremendous metamorphosis! After 14 years with the State of Georgia, and 8 years as an Adult Protective Services Case Manager, I gave my resignation on August 17th. September 14th was my last day.
As I left for home that last day, the sun was streaming in through the windows of my car. It was an absolutely beautiful day. The radio was off and it was so calm, so quiet. As I drove, I found myself saying aloud, “I made it out of this job alive. I actually made it out alive.”
I’m not retired, I’m still very much working. I’m writing and blogging and having so much fun. It’s wonderfully strange and very peaceful being home all day, and I haven’t had to call the police even once.