As a professional advocate for the disability community I had a variety of responsibilities. I taught daily living skills; provided peer support, mentoring; advocated for equal access, reasonable accommodations, Special Education services; assisted persons with disabilities in obtaining Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid benefits; I provided sensitivity trainings, self-determination workshops and provided ‘person-first’ education. I was responsible for familiarizing myself with a list of resources and information as well as appropriate referrals. I had to educate myself on the disabilities and conditions of the consumers who received services from the agency I worked for. There were many more responsibilities that didn’t involve direct service to consumers.
I don’t intend this to sound arrogant, but I excelled at this job. I was able to help people, support them and see the result of my efforts when their issues were resolved. Many of the families I helped became my friends. I developed good relationships with other social service agencies, school districts and organizations that provide services to the disability population. All my professional reviews rated nearly excellent, my consumer satisfaction surveys were all excellent – so much so the staff joked that I was paying people off.
While working at this agency I witnessed a lot of questionable procedures and conduct, from fellow staff members as well as management. There were a number of ethical issues in the office as well as privacy violations. There were questionable financial practices and acts of discrimination against the very community they were tasked to serve.
I spoke my mind which made things terribly uncomfortable and difficult for me. I was told I was ‘too honest’.
When I lost my job I considered making a complaint to the Human Relations Commission, but the day before I was terminated I had tests that revealed a progression in my conditions and diseases that was overwhelming. I required surgery at the same time and had to prioritize taking care of my own health over making a report about the agency.
I had a very difficult time with the new prognosis and the deterioration of my condition, dealing with all of my health concerns became my focus so that I could continue to advocate for my son and be supportive of him. I received phone calls from consumers I had been helping, asking me to continue to advocate for them and tried to do so, but had to be mindful of my physical and emotional limits.
All these years I’ve wished I had made a report to someone of authority.
This past week I became aware that the agency was being monitored and investigated for a number of improprieties. I was provided with contact information so that I could share my concerns about the agency.
I spent this past week putting together a letter that I could send via email to the monitor for the agency’s main funding source and sent it out today. I called to alert the monitor to be looking for my email, so it didn’t go into a spam or trash folder. A number of past and present employees and consumers are sharing information about their experiences with this agency.
I always felt that if I couldn’t adequately advocate for myself, how could I advocate for anyone else? I need to share my concerns, so that other folks who need the services that are supposed to be delivered by this agency are able to get them, are treated with respect and dignity. I need to speak up, as funding is being cut, services cut back and agencies that aren’t using their funding for the intended purposes need to be held accountable.