Over the years I have spoken with dozens and dozens of fellow quadriplegics who seem to share in the story of having their caregivers leave without notice, emotionally abuse them, physically abuse them, and so many other horrifying tales. If you know me or have read some of my blog posts you will know that I, too, have had more than my fair share of horrifying incidents with caregivers. This blog is not to recount what has happened to me, but rather shed some light on interesting facts I have discovered over the last month due to a recent caregiver leaving me with no notice, no phone call, no text, etc. I have learned some useful tidbits of information and also picked up on some tips & tricks for the hiring of future caregivers, which I hope will help some.
Six weeks ago I was on the hunt for a new live-in caregiver several days a week and after interviewing several my entire household agreed they liked this one particular lady. I don’t use caregiving agencies because they are too expensive and cannot cover the hours I generally need, so I usually look to care.com and Craigslist as so many other quads in my situation do as well.
I think my caregiver radar is broken, so I like to have other people’s opinions to help me choose my caregivers these days. She did really well, was pleasant, a fast learner, and told me repeatedly how much she loved working with me. I was thrilled as I thought perhaps, this time, just maybe we would find one who would stick around for a while.
Anyway, things were going swimmingly, in my opinion, and two weeks ago after one month of employment she simply did not show up the night she was supposed to come into work. She left all of her belongings at my house and we were all completely dumbfounded. I called her multiple times, texted her, but to no avail. Naturally, my first thought was that she was in some sort of accident and was in the hospital. I was worried. Normally, when caregivers leave they take their stuff (secretly I might add) and just don’t come back. When this happens I usually just let it go because I am in such a rush to find someone new that I don’t have time or energy to follow up.
This time seemed different. The very next day I called around hospitals to see if she was injured; she was not. I took out the W9 tax form she filled out for me to look up her Social Security number and address. I called the local police department where she “claimed” to live and had a policeman go by her house to see what was going on. The local policeman called me and told me the address did not exist … Surprise, surprise! I didn’t have any other contact numbers for her.
Lesson: I now know to make sure to get several emergency contact numbers for these caregivers and make sure they are real people, and look up on Google maps that the address is indeed correct.
Several days passed with more phone calls, texts, and voicemails imploring her to let me know if she was okay, what happened, and what was going on? I received no response. I wish I could say I was dismayed, but I think I’ve become so jaded over the years that nothing really surprises me anymore, sad as that is to admit out loud.
I know she is certified as a CNA in North Carolina, so I called the Nurse Registry in North Carolina to report her for abandoning me with my 72-year-old mother. What I learned still surprises me weeks later. I spoke with the administration department to report her so she wouldn’t do this to another private duty patient when she finally decided to apply for a new job. I was told I cannot file a complaint against her because I was not part of an agency, hospital, home healthcare company, etc. As a private patient, in North Carolina anyway, you cannot file a complaint against a CNA. This completely blew my mind. I explained to the lady on the phone the situation I was in, and she told me that I could call the police to file an abuse or neglect complaint.
I wasn’t physically abused, but with the help of my boyfriend, I learned what the punishment in the state of North Carolina statute, 14-32.3, for abuse, neglect, and exploitation of a disabled or elderly person is:
14-32.3. Domestic abuse, neglect, and exploitation of disabled or elder adults.
(a) Abuse. – A person is guilty of abuse if that person is a caretaker of a disabled or elder adult who is residing in a domestic setting and, with malice aforethought, knowingly and willfully: (i) assaults, (ii) fails to provide medical or hygienic care, or (iii) confines or restrains the disabled or elder adult in a place or under a condition that is cruel or unsafe, and as a result of the act or failure to act the disabled or elder adult suffers mental or physical injury.
If the disabled or elder adult suffers serious injury from the abuse, the caretaker is guilty of a Class F felony. If the disabled or elder adult suffers injury from the abuse, the caretaker is guilty of a Class H felony.
(b) Neglect. – A person is guilty of neglect if that person is a caretaker of a disabled or elder adult who is residing in a domestic setting and, wantonly, recklessly, or with gross carelessness: (i) fails to provide medical or hygienic care, or (ii) confines or restrains the disabled or elder adult in a place or under a condition that is unsafe, and as a result of the act or failure to act the disabled or elder adult suffers mental or physical injury.
I then further looked up the definition under the statute for what constitutes the definition of neglect/abuse, which was Article 6, 108A-101:
(a) The word “abuse” means the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, unreasonable confinement, or the willful deprivation by a caretaker of services which are necessary to maintain mental and physical health.
(b) The word “caretaker” shall mean an individual who has the responsibility for the care of the disabled adult as a result of family relationship or who has assumed the responsibility for the care of the disabled adult voluntarily or by contract.
Taking a pause for a dark humor moment:
I didn’t realize that the word abuse can also pertain to mental anguish. Clearly I would likely have a legal case for this caregiver for neglect, but I was going to have to file a report through the police. Now, remember I am not a lawyer and I am sure the legal in’s and out’s as well as loopholes are probably endless with respect to a case like mine, but I don’t feel like spending the funds on a lawyer to get all of the fine print at this very moment.
LESSON: Print out the entire North Carolina abuse and neglect statute and have a caregiver sign that they have read and understand the law. Perhaps this might act as a mental deterrence for future caregivers to think about leaving with not giving another disabled patient notice.
About a week after her disappearance and almost 10 hours into speaking with folks at the police department, the nurse registry, hospitals, and doing my own research I was just exhausted. I was also poking around on the Internet and while I did do a County background check, I should have done an entire state background check because I did learn in 2012 she had been arrested (courtesy of my boyfriend’s research), I don’t know about convicted, for trafficking cocaine. I actually found her mug shot. Again, I wish this would have surprised me, but it did not. So, for all I knew she was in jail! I even called the police department to confirm that she had last been arrested in 2012, which they did, but they did not give out specific details that I had found.
LESSON: Don’t make the mistake I did of just doing a countywide criminal background search, but the entire country if possible. I believe in second chances even when people make mistakes, but still better to have all of the facts 🙂 I think in the past sometimes I didn’t want to know because I wanted to believe the best in people.
By this point I just assumed she was in jail, but I continued to call her phone number from various phones. I’m tenacious sometimes! Finally after about a week a gentleman picked up the phone and I asked to speak with this caregiver and I was abruptly hung up on. So, I knew her phone could not have of been destroyed; if she had been in a hospital I’m sure somebody in the hospital would have seen the numerous missed calls from me; and if she was in jail the phone probably would’ve been turned off.
So, I came to the conclusion she abandoned ship. I kept thinking to myself what if somebody died in her family or she had an emergency. I still can’t justify why a person would not have the common decency to at least send a text. In my humble opinion, THERE IS NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER! I still ferociously stand by this.
Over the course of my texts to her I finally told her that she had so many weeks to get her items out of my home or they would be donated to Goodwill because I needed to move on. Surprise surprise, I received a random text from someone who said that she was this caregiver’s sister. I told her I would not release the items to her unless the caregiver called me personally. The last text I sent her implored her to show me, and I quote “professional respect and human kindness to let me know what had happened.” No response. However, when it came to getting her things I received a text message from her right after her sister. What a world we live in!
She said she was sorry she did not come back to work, but her child had an emergency and she was in the hospital with her. Obviously I cannot verify any of these facts, but I did tell her that she was the one that left without notice and could’ve had the decency to send me a text just as she had done two minutes earlier. I have to admit I remained extremely calm and did not give her any emotional response.
She told me she would call me to verify it was her and that her sister could come pick up her belongings, but she would not talk to me about anything else. She even had the gall to tell me over text that even texting me was taking time away from her daughter in the hospital. Seriously?
Several days later I received a call, which lasted about 10 seconds where she asked me to release her belongings to her sister. I agreed to do so, but I’m sure there are many out there who probably would have thrown them out 🙂 I try my very best every day to still act with kindness towards fellow human beings even if it is not reciprocated. This was one of those times that I had to exercise extreme emotional restraint!
So, the conclusion is that she did leave without any notice, I have no idea what is actually happening, her child may or may not be sick, and if she is I feel badly for her, but there is no excuse for her actions. I don’t even have the legal rights to report her for her CNA license for abandoning a private duty patient. What if she got injured one day and had someone do this to her?
What Could I Do Now?
Legally, I could definitely file a neglect case against her with the police. If someone then hired her for private duty and did a background check I’m sure it would come up, but ultimately I have decided to move forward even though this was an interesting experiment over the last two weeks.
If I did file a neglect case I might have to hire a lawyer, which I’m not willing to pay for, and I probably would have to do multiple interviews with different policemen taking away from my daily activities. If she did try to file a complaint against me I would then probably have to hire a lawyer as well. I also spoke with the police department and the nurse registry regarding neglect cases in my particular situation, and the general consensus is they are not generally followed up on. They are very loosely investigated, but since I wasn’t physically abused the chances of my case going anywhere are probably not very high.
What Would this all Take Away for Me?
Most importantly, my MENTAL SANITY. I don’t want this caregiver to do what she did to me to another private duty case, but the effort I would have to put forth to take action on a neglect case would take time away from my job, increase my pain levels from stress, create unnecessary levels of anxiety for me, and prevent me from spending the time on training a new caregiver. I only have so many good hours in a day before my pain levels get to a point where I just need to relax.
As the age old saying goes: “Let Bygones be Bygones.” Now, this would be completely different if she put me an extremely dangerous situation, but since I am not in physical distress, but rather sheer mental exhaustion, it’s just not worth it to me.
I’m glad I took this particular situation to see what some of my legal options are, but frankly, I just want to live in peace. It’s exhausting enough having to train new caregivers, have someone physically take care of you every day, work your schedule around everyone else’s life even if it is not convenient to you, but most of all I try and live a low-key life with respect to keeping my nerve pain levels down, and stress is one of the number one enablers for pain for me.
I work every day towards minimizing my stress levels, keeping calm, staying positive, helping others spinal cord injury folks, and trying to bring just a little bit of positivity into a world that is so negative. I think if I start going down the road of getting angry and filing reports here or tracking a caregiver down there I would be a unhappy person.
I rather spend my time frolicking about with my loved ones, smelling the roses around me, exploring the world, and doing very silly things for the great memories! That’s just my two cents on the matter ;-)