Woods a vibrant, compassionate community
*This editorial originally appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times
It is gratifying to see Woods Services pushing back against the outrageous and defamatory allegations published by Disability Rights New York.
As a parent of two profoundly disabled adult children, I have spent decades as witness to the ceaseless attacks on multi-bed facilities like Woods by fanatical organizations that cling relentlessly to the belief that disabled individuals are best served by “community placement” (group homes) with no more than three to four beds.
Having eliminated most of the state-run facilities decades ago, they have since devoted their efforts to the private nonprofits like Woods. One of my children is in a group home; the other is in Woods. The net annual cost is about the same.
There is no comparison between the breadth and depth of services provided. The folks at the group home do the best they can, but without a concentration of educational, therapeutic and medical services at one location, they are stretched thin.
Woods provides everything our son needs in a safe, compassionate and enriching environment. His needs are more severe than his older sister, yet the group home struggles to meet even her needs.
My wife and I fear the day when the ideologues in Harrisburg force our son out of Woods and into a group home. Group homes may be located “in the community” but their residents, especially those with severe needs, are rarely ever an actual part of that community.
Woods is a community — a vibrant and compassionate one that creates a safe space for the disabled to live and thrive. Woods was created over 100 years ago through the efforts of one person, Mollie Woods, who devoted her life to helping the disabled achieve in ways that had been inconceivable before.
If organizations like DRNY succeed in destroying Woods, something beautiful and irreplaceable will have been lost.
To put a lifetime of chaos in the span of a few sentences, my son exhibited severe issues associated with autism, OCD, and epilepsy at a very early age and was diagnosed at 14 months. He is currently 23, and has been a resident at Woods for the past eight years. His autism came at a time when it was not a household word and he was thrown from program to program from his district’s public school, and to multiple private schools before being blessed with the opportunity to come to Woods. He was restrained in EVERY program for extensive periods of time due to his self-injurious and aggressive behaviors that are the result of a diagnosis that he did not ask for. A typical incident would have him engage in a difficult behavior and when it passed (from the onset of a seizure without convulsions, which many did not understand at first), my poor baby would look in his caretaker’s eyes and with great difficulty say “I’m sorry.” Is this the life you would want for your child?
He is kind, loving, and only wants to be welcomed in a world that doesn’t understand the complexity of his being, even those trained to be specialists. My husband and I recognized this early on, and both left our jobs so that we could work in this field and become “experts”. We started a non-profit and therefore are very active in programs all around our state. We researched what was out there, and time and time again we saw that Woods was going to be our son’s sanctuary in a world of chaos. To get there we had to claw our way through so many failed attempts for his happiness, and watch as others enjoy life with him pushed to the side. Then we received a glimpse of hope when he was accepted to Woods. Woods provided him with a chance to have everything that he needs on one campus, under one protected environment. This means everything to our son and our entire family that was crumbling from physical and emotional exhaustion.
Is Woods perfect, not by a long shot, but NO place that we have been involved in is. The main issue out there that seems to be pushed aside is that the people that we entrust our loved one care to cannot possibly understand EVERY person’s unique disability. Every person is culminated with a variety of issues and challenges that makes them who they are, and their caregivers simply do NOT get paid what they are worth.
Think about the challenges that you face in your day, now be handed someone that may not be able to communicate their needs and has cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs and you need to be able to speak for them, feed them, bathe them, and provide for them a chance to live a productive and rewarding life. They are minimally trained for the multitude of knowledge they need to know with every minute, and simply make a ridiculous salary. Do you have this type of responsibility for less than $12 an hour? Their supervisors are given tasks that take them away from training, development, and supervision, and things fall through the cracks. Is this acceptable, absolutely not, but when Denise DeCarlo states “it makes clear the heightened exposure of abuses at out-of-state facilities…” out-of-state is the least of your worries. This takes place, unfortunately, in EVERY program and not only for the disabled, but for the elderly and any at-risk individual wherever they may reside. They are only as safe as the staff that is with them at that given moment.
Again, this is something we understand because my husband and I gave up everything we had to support our son and others like him. It is quite difficult to make ends meet with such a minimal salary, yet we do it because we want the people we work with to foster independence, and feel they have something special to offer the world. Not everyone feels this way.
The focus of this article should not have been Woods Services. As a family that went to Trenton to fight again Return Home NJ we have shared our story many times. We have shared our plight to locate a program close to home to provide our son with the best chance to enjoy life. That journey continues to end with Woods Services. We are active on campus, and are picking our family up and moving closer to be even more instrumental in his development and that of those around him. This is the BEST scenario for our family and many others like ours as you may find out from researching our stories. Our wish is for the powers that be to continue to help provide the training, accountability, and opportunities for rewarding those that are making a difference in helping my son progress, rather than concentrating on ways to make the battle even harder for us.
My son is reading simple words, painting, going to the gym with peers, and is able to travel to his day program, café, or medical appointments. He is exposed to hundreds of staff members and clients that he knows by name and interacts with daily, enjoys dances, and so many experiences that he would NEVER be able to do if not exposed to this campus. He still has issues leaving the grounds, but because of Woods he never needs to. Everything for a rewarding life is right at his disposal. It is his and our home.
As we move into a time of Thanksgiving, we are so thankful for Woods, the staff members that we consider family, and the opportunity they have provided my family. It is not perfect, but it is our perfect and a watchful eye should be laid on ALL programs like this rather than concentrating on stories with just one. Thank you for your valuable time.
-Jani and Lenny Sblendorio
It is no secret that Disability Rights New York (DRNY) is prejudice against campus style residential facilities for people with disabilities. And that prejudice reared its ugly head when Lisa Foderaro’s October 30, 2017 article about abuse and neglect at Woods Services in Langhorne, PA was recently published in The New York Times.
Our son has been a resident of Woods since 2001. We visit him at least two times a week and have never seen or been suspicious of abuse or neglect of him or any of the residents in his home. On the contrary our son and his housemates are happy, engaged in appropriate activities, and very well nurtured in a caring environment by highly qualified and trained staff.
There is no comparison of care between Woods and group homes. We should know because a few years ago during the Return Home NJ initiative, we were forced to visit multiple New Jersey group homes. The ratio of staff to residents was inadequate and the training of direct care staff, supervisors, and those authorized to administer medications was alarming. Fortunately, after a three year battle, my son remains at Woods but some families were not so lucky. They moved their loved ones from Woods to NJ group homes and now, after experiencing the reality, they are once again fighting the system to return their loved ones to Woods.
Foderaro’s article, based on DRNY’s report, took some rare, unfortunate incidents that occurred at Woods Services and tried to present them as business as usual. It’s regrettable The New York Times did not investigate before publishing such a slanted report and besmirching Woods and the wonderful services they provide.
-Bob and Marcia Adams
I received the letter from Woods yesterday,informing me of the investigation into Woods, and now I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about it. I want to express my own feelings right now. For the first time since my grandson Justin was struck by an automobile back in ’93, I am comfortable and happy with the care he’s receiving. He has been shifted from different parts in the state of Pennsylvania every time my daughter moved. The last rehab he lived in he wasn’t watched, was able to roam around the grounds alone on a busy country road. I used to call daily complaining about the staff and how he was being treated but my complaints went nowhere. He was then transferred to another program, where he was taken advantage of by the staff who used his debit card for their own use, cigarettes, soda, anything they needed at Wawa.
In July of 2012, his mother died, she was in a nursing facility suffering from COPD, and I was the only family member who cared enough about him even though his sister and brother both lived nearby. I live in NJ, and couldn’t find anything suitable here for him. Then I learned about Beechwood, a program of Woods, and my prayers were answered. I packed him up and took him there and have been contented ever since. He’s happy with the care he’s receiving, loves his staff,and never complains about them. I attend the meetings, and take him out whenever I am up that way, for family functions, etc. I don’t know what I would do if he had to relocate again, and I worry about how he would handle it, too. Woods is his home now. I’m 79 years old and there’s no one else in the family who cares enough to take over when I’m gone. Please relay this message to others in charge, you have my permission, and my support. Thank you for listening.
Our son, 53, has resided at Woods since 1993. It has been a godsend for our family, especially our son, Nicky, who has experienced more of life because of his care at Woods than he probably would have if he lived with his parents.
Nicky was born blind and is profoundly retarded, but – according to him – he is a celebrity. We got that from him on his last visit with us on October 17. As far as we can tell, he has received superb care – physically, emotionally, and medically. We are getting up there in age and we’re not able to provide the attention we used to because it has become too physically demanding.
Our 21-year old daughter has severe developmental delays and extensive medical needs. She is non-verbal, fed with a feeding tube, on a strict ketogenic diet and needs help with everything she does. When we could no longer care for her at home, we spent a grueling year searching for a program to fit her complicated behavioral and medical needs with no success. When we found Woods, it was a miracle. She has 24-hour nursing care, an ABA school program, physical, occupational, and speech therapy, and recreational activities in the community. Most of all, she has loving and attentive staff who go above and beyond. She is safe, healthy, and happy. Respect, dignity and compassion are what we see as pervasive at Woods.
-Beth and Roger Angrick
I am Guardian for my 60+ year old male relative that I will refer to as “B” and he has been a resident in your care since 1976. B has received, and continues to receive the highest possible level of care I know of. His day-to-day life is filled with joy, consideration, and extraordinary privilege. In all the years he has been at Woods I have never had any issue with his caregivers. They are highly trained, dedicated, skilled, intuitive, sensitive, and patient beyond saints. I know them because they are career employees that are the family that B has spent his life with. Some of them have been with Woods almost as long as B and I have. They come in early and stay late and are more “in tune” with B’s needs than he is. B suffers from extensive brain damage from a car crash in 1973. This has left him with severe mood disorders, lack of comprehension, anxiety, confusion, agitation and often times a serious aggression issue. He is technically “incapacitated.” These caregivers respond to him with nothing but compassion and concern for his wellbeing. Even when I become frustrated with B, the caregivers say to me “he can’t help it”. B wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the vigilant care and monitoring by these devoted caregivers. They do a great job of keeping him from harming himself and others. The staff are masters of managing prickly personalities and conflicts on a minute to minute basis.
During hurricane Sandy, I knew of employees leaving their loved ones to get to work and be with B and the others at his house. This is their typical level of commitment. Employees sleep in chairs or on the floor to be available to do double shifts when there are bad weather forecasts. They also come in on their days off to bring B gifts (which they purchase with their own funds) on his birthday and holidays. These are very generous people. They comfort B when he’s confused, teach him games, do crafts with him, decorate his room, have sing-a-longs and dance parties, and in general, do whatever they can to keep him happy. The people that do the driving and the food prep and the building maintenance and security and therapists and nurses are also supremely dedicated to serving the clients, and suffer hardships to assure that B and his housemates are getting what they need. Often times, B will have to go to the hospital for a seizure disorder and a staff person is always in the ambulance to speak for him and in the hospital room with him, even if it means the staff have to unexpectedly adjust their schedules and work overtime. B would have died years ago from many different health occurrences if it weren’t for the skills and fast actions of these talented caregivers.
I’m at the stage in life where friends and family have loved ones in assisted living. I live three states away from Woods and people sometimes ask why I don’t move B closer to me. When I tell them the level of care that B receives they are amazed with it. Woods is his loving home and I would not want to disrupt his happiness, superior quality of life, and wellbeing. I don’t give warning as to when I’m visiting. I have never found B to be unattended, uncared for or in anyway or unhappy with his life at Woods. I have never seen any client that wasn’t being cared for. (I remember one time I was visiting and B’s suitemate had defecated in his bed and caregiver “E.D.” was managing a serious mess while breezily telling the client it was no problem.) They handle daily issues like this with a smile. B is always clean and groomed and has access to whatever he might need.
Sometimes I am able to drive B from his house for an outing. When I bring him back and he sees where we are going he shouts out “that’s my house, everyone there is MY friend!” He yells out “you’re my best friend” to each caregiver he sees. B has never indicated displeasure with any caregiver, or staff member. Woods Services is his home and we appreciate that you fine people can give him the extraordinary quality of life that you provide.. They give their clients every opportunity to live a fullfilled life.
Thank you for all that you wonderful people do everyday for my loved one. I look forward to many future years of your outstanding caregiving. I am forever grateful for the life you have given B. When he was first admitted he didn’t understand words and was uncoordinated. Today he has many life skills and can express himself, and often times he is expressing joy with being in your care. Please feel free to use/share this letter anyway you feel that it would be beneficial. It’s my intention that employees know that they are deeply appreciated.