If you are an individual with a disability, living at home, and require help with your personal care needs, ( bathing, dressing, etc. ), then you need to hire home health aides. When I was initially injured and going through my first hiring process, I was extremely naïve. I thought all home health aides would be a version of Florence Nightingale.
Unfortunately, for anyone needing home health aides, it is far from the truth. In my experience, for every one wonderful individual that has nothing but the best of intentions, there are twenty that prey upon individuals like myself, looking only to take advantage.
For years, I thought I was the one with the problem…that I was doing something wrong for such a majority of aides to treat me so horribly. I’ve been physically hit, have had my bank account emptied more than once, lied to, aides no-call/no-show, have had my car, credit cards and every item imaginable stolen right from my home…I’d have to write another book to include it all.
When I finally got the courage to talk to folks in my same situation and share my experiences, they have had the exact same experiences since needing home health care to the present. To this day, I do not know why this is.
I moved to Los Angeles the second year after my injury. There was a clinic doing groundbreaking physical therapy for people with spinal cord injuries, and I wanted to see what it was all about. Almost immediately upon my arrival, I met a woman at the physical therapy clinic who ran a home health agency.
As when anybody moves, you need to set up house…call the electric company, the cable company and if you’re me, you also call your local home health care agencies. Hiring people to care for you in your home is a big job, so when a woman who runs a home health care agency practically fell into my lap, I thought it too good to be true. Turned out, it was.
The woman’s name was Sheridan, and she said she had the perfect live – in aide for me. The aide, whose name was Winnie, had taken care of Sheridan’s mother for five years. “She is salt of the earth. I would trust her with my own life,” Sheridan said.
Winnie was a live-in aide. A few days after she moved in, I sent her to do some errands for me. She used my van, as she did not have her own car. She should have been gone a few hours, two at the most, and she left about 3 PM. By 7 PM, with no sign of Winnie or my van, I called Sheridan’s twenty-four hour emergency line.
By 10 PM, there was still no sign of my aide, my van or a return phone call from the dozen messages I left on Sheridan’s emergency voicemail. I had called a few friends earlier to come over and help me figure out what to do. We called local hospitals to see if anybody fitting Winnie’s description had been recently admitted to any emergency rooms, but no luck. We also called the police to report my van stolen.
Close to midnight, I received a phone call from a very lively sounding gentleman who introduced himself as JJ. He said Winnie had been arrested, my van was impounded but it was “A-OK!” As I started to ask questions, he hung up.
With the help of my friends, by the following morning I had my van back safe and sound and was aware of the facts from the police. Winnie had driven my van to downtown LA. She tried to sell the TV, VCR and Nintendo in it for some quick cash to buy crack. I had a Ford Mark III Conversion Van at the time. It came with all the extras you end up never using.
When Winnie’s potential customer was not interested in television appliances, she offered him oral sex instead. He wasn’t interested in that either… He was an undercover cop. Winnie was arrested and my van was impounded, just as JJ had said.
A friend had stayed overnight to help me the following day. I had never heard from Sheridan and by then, never expected to. My van was back safe and sound, and I considered myself lucky to be rid of Sheridan’s services if Winnie was an example of the caliber of individuals she had in her agency.
The police told me Winnie had quite an arrest record for a resume, so obviously no background check had been done on her prior to Sheridan placing her in my home. (Sheridan’s contract stated she did extensive background checks on all of her aides.) Even more disturbing, the police were familiar with Sheridan herself. She spent time outside the Los Angeles County Jail, telling individuals who were being released she could offer them a job that would provide them with a roof over their head and the use of a vehicle.
Around noon that day, I had a knock on my door. When my friend opened it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Winnie was standing there, suitcase in hand, expecting to return to work. When I told her to leave before I called the police, she claimed Sheridan told her to go back to work as soon as she was able. As my friend picked up the phone to call 911, Winnie fled. I never saw or heard from her again.
Later that afternoon, I got a call from Sheridan. She was furious I had told Winnie to leave, and said I was not honoring my part of the contract I signed with her agency. I asked her if she knew of Winnie’s actions the prior day, and she accused me of being prejudice against people with addictions.
“Addiction is a disease!” Sheridan exclaimed. I told her I fully agreed. I also told her a person dealing with drug or alcohol addiction had no business taking care of another individual when they needed care themselves. I hung up the phone while she was still ranting. I never heard from or saw her again.
Going through that experience was traumatic, especially being without the support of my family and being 3,000 miles away from home. But now, anytime I tell this story, I am filled with laughter. And it’s fun to watch people’s reactions as I tell it. These kind of stories can’t be made up. That’s because truth is usually stranger, crazier and funnier than fiction.