Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dignity Restored?

"The system is not set up to make people happy."

This was a statement made to a colleague friend by a social worker in this fair province when he was attempting to advocate on behalf of an 84 year old woman, a client in the Seniors program with Social Services.

Dorothy lives alone in the city in a new apartment building that is situated far away from any amenities. Widowed for 20 years, and living with serious health problems including osteoporosis, she just recently lost her son who provided her with companionship and care. Social Services were contacted after her son's death, because she needed help. In quick succession, they moved her from her house to the apartment that is fully equipped including a stand up washer/dryer. Her rent is $800.00 per month. Her pension cheque is $1000.00 per month. She is now alone, with no familial support and not enough money to sustain herself. She seems to have no real connections with the community, except for Meals on Wheels and an occasional visit from her social worker.

And she struggles as she tries to adjust to her new environment - her new reality, poverty stricken and alone in her grieving; incapable of coping with her apparent depression

"The system is not set up to make people happy."

Social Service has assessed her as "independent." However, Dorothy's osteoporosis is so serious that she is literally bent over and can't straighten up. Consequently, she is not able to reach her new washing machine to use, can't reach into her cupboards, has a difficult time making any type of meal, struggles with doing the basics of cleaning and is not able to step in and out of her bathtub. I'm told she can make a cup of tea. Maybe "independence" means being able to sustain yourself on tea.

In a moment of desperate loneliness, Dorothy called the local police department for help. They in turn called my friend who volunteers one weekend a month in a victim services program. He spent last Friday with Dorothy, listening to her story..........really listening to her story. Sometime during the conversation, he decided to act on her behalf to try to advocate for more daily living intervention and rent subsidy. So, on Monday morning, he phoned the social worker and attempted to describe Dorothy's situation, thinking that maybe because he works in the same department but with a different clientele, his advocacy would have more integrity.

What he heard was eye rolling sighing words............."Oh, yes we know her. Yes..........she's a bit difficult.............not really a likable person...................a bit caustic...............her monthly pension cheque is $1200.00 not $1000.00..................she has enough to live on..............."

He replied by pointing out the facts, emphasizing her age, her disconnection to the community, her health. And, when he shared his feeling that Dorothy was unhappy, that is when he heard:

"The system is not set up to make people happy."

How appallingly robotic. How unfeeling. Is this a prevalent attitude, or is this social worker just a burn out? The Mission Statement of the Department; one that all staff had a chance to have input in when it was being developed, clearly states: We are known as a Department that truly care about people, and their issues. Clients are treated with respect, fairness and empathy. the Department always applies a client perspective before taking action, asking, "How is what I am about to do going to help my clients?"

Let's hope this attitude hasn't seeped into the cracks of the foundation of the Department. What the attitude which underlies the unfeeling statement did do is to add fuel to an Advocate. Dorothy is not alone anymore. My friend and the police officer who initially contacted him are planning to work together to make sure that Dorothy receives the intervention and respect that she so justly deserves.

And the Social Worker who made the comment............we'll see, we'll see.

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