Friday, January 18, 2008

Two Days Cleaning House At Woodland Oaks

First of all let me say that this letter indicts a system, not people. While I had almost no exposure to the medical side of things, I heard few if any complaints about their work from residents or family, and have every reason to believe that they are competent if not exemplary in this regard. The nurse aids and nurses with very limited exceptions were kind, personable, and professional. The dietary and housekeeping people were equally thoughtful and generous. In fact the only tolerable part of this job was the people. And I feel personally guilty for the extra work I’m sure someone has to endure because of my departure.

A little bit about me. I've been repairing computers since I was 17, I’m 28 now, I was president of my college, and I have a 3.0 GPA with 56 credit hours. I worked in a computer lab for three years which was a very rewarding job consisting of answering phones, helping with homework, trouble shooting machines, resetting passwords, maintaining the printers, managing an inventory, proctoring tests, and various other computer lab type things. I have written a book on philosophy called simply “the book”, I am a certified locksmith, and a patented inventor. I have mild cerebral palsy on the right side of my body which resulted in a mild deformity of the right foot and hand.

Having worked at the oaks during a summer as a lawn care helper, I had gotten to know many of the employees, and one of the residents very well. So much so that I went back to visit every week, including Christmas day when the place was a virtual ghost town. Ms Gay was who I went to go see, she’s a super sweet and tough old lady that got onto my bosses for working me too hard. This turned out to be the only serious notice of appreciation I got over there, and let me be quick in pointing out that I was not alone. Praise is not a common thing at the oaks. In fact in between my time there as a lawn guy and my two days of housekeeping, all three of my bosses had been fired or quit (I can’t get a straight answer, but knowing two of them at least one quit) But what administration lacks in concern for its employees it makes up for in greed and shortsightedness.

Anyway, I need money like everyone else right and I live across the street from the place. So I ask for a job during one of my visits. I’m kind of hoping that my three years of office experience and computer/printer skills could get me a job up front manning the phone signing people in, doing inventory, or what ever. But apparently I’m too tall for the job. (Or too male maybe, I’m not sure.) Incidentally they hired at least two attractive young ladies for the job I’d like.

They do however offer me a job in activities, which I turn down because I’m not as strong as the activities people. While I’m sure its extremely rewarding work for those tough enough, I simply cannot handle the idea of getting to know all these wonderful and sweet old men and women only to watch them die in the coming years. Being an atheist I cannot feel anything but loss when a person dies. So, knowing my own limitations, I turn it down. At this point a friend steps in, whom I won’t name because she might not want me to. She was a co-worker when I was still the lawn guy. But since then she had been promoted (replacing one of my three bosses) and offered me a job in her department, which was house keeping. I foolishly accepted. Even now I truly appreciate her offer and her efforts to accommodate my frailties. I was only there in this capacity for two days and 20 minutes. My trainer had been there 14 years.

The first order of business as far as administration goes at the oaks is divide and conquer. Talk of a union is strictly but informally prohibited. In addition to this somewhat passive measure a more active process of classist separation is initiated involving color coding the humans running the place as if they were equipment. Scrubs for everyone, white for cooks, brown for cleaners, blue for nurse aids, multicolor for nurses, and semi casual for administration. The only non dress coded personnel are the maintenance people because they are worked so hard that anything other than the most practical of wear would simply self destruct. The excuse given for this behavior is it confuses the residents. But I don’t buy it. We’re there for them, why do they need to know for what department we work? If a resident asks me about sheets I’ll just go find a sheet person. If they ask me for a cup of water I’ll find an aid. I feel it’s there to remind everyone that we’re different and that the people up front are better than all us lowly hive workers.

The economy is so bad in our area that they know they can get away with murder. At any moment for any reason you can be fired. This leads to total employee apathy with regard to standing up for them selves. Everyone is on a first name basis except the exalted Ms. Tice, whom I have yet to lay eyes on; such is the rarity of her attendance and distance from the residents, except in the photos of her placed around the entrance like Chairman Mao.

My first day begins simply enough, at 9am I have an orientation, I attend it and I watch a bunch of CYA videos about how not to get Tice and the oaks sued or closed. My first round of these videos when I was a lawn guy included a video about resident rights, curiously now that the videos were moved from vhs to dvds, this portion of the program was absent. After these I leave to go home, but I’m told by my boss at the door that my 8 hour shift begins at 2 pm.

During this shift I sit down like twice. My job consists of trashing, restocking things, mopping, and buffer piloting. The buffer is the first real snag. I’m 6’5” the buffer is made in like 1950 and has no adjustability to the handle, so my back begins to fail almost immediately. On top of that I’m expected to run it during the day, backwards, with one hand. Backwards because each area needs multiple passes, one hand because I have to guide the cable, because one from the 21st century is too expensive despite the fact that they make like 3K$ per month per room or more, and during the day because a night shift cleaning crew is an unjustifiable expense when you can just over work your day crew.

Same with mopping, I’m expected to wait until after dinner to begin mopping which gives me just under 4 hours to mop the entire facility. My trainer who as I said had been there for 14 years does it during dinner, because he has no real choice. If he doesn't get done, he gets fired, if he does it right and safely he doesn't get done. So long as no one falls or sues, administration doesn't care. Residents won’t fall because they are mostly in wheel chairs anyway, guests aren’t around during dinner so the only people in real danger are employees, and they won’t sue because they want their job. Many of them are parents. Exploiting single mothers is just about the most loathsome thing I can think of, I might add. My foot is really starting to hurt by the end of this run because as I said I’m slightly deformed in the right foot. But I make it through because I don’t leave people hanging.

The next day at 11:30 am there is a staff meeting that we all must attend. Ms Tice is supposed to be there so of course we all attend; she decides to just not show up. Of course we’d get written up if we just decided not to show with no warning, but the rules are different for the aristocracy. The meeting concerns a decree from our lords, that apparently we’re no longer allowed to gossip. I’m not kidding, they even make us sign a paper to this effect.

I’m wondering how you would even define gossip, and about the legality of controlling private conversations. And I say something to this effect, like can they even restrict our private speech? And I’m totally laughed off. I let it slide. I talk to my boss after the meeting and explain the buffer situation, and I explain my foot thing and how I need at least a day between shifts. She says she’ll get a day person so I don't have to work like full time, she asks is it cool if I have just like two days a week and I says yes please, I only want part time. I’m very optimistic at this point.

Anyway my next day is pretty much the same, I mop I buff I empty trash but I’m thinking, with me and my trainer doing this and we just barely get done, how does he manage it when he doesn't have help, since he’s just training me and this is supposed to be a one person job? I tell him and others that they are radically over worked. No one wants to hear about their rights, no one wants to even contemplate organized complaint, I’m looked at like a total alien for suggesting that maybe we’re being mistreated. As if I’m somehow unable to detect mistreatment unless I’d been there years, but in my mind the exact opposite is true. I can detect it precisely because I haven’t been slowly indoctrinated to accept abuse.

My boss is roaming around for half the day and I see her and ask when my next shift is. Despite what we talked about she tells me my next shift is tomorrow, and it’ll be all day, by myself. This makes it the third day in a row. My foot is already beginning to fold on this the second day and eventually I can’t take it and leave 4 hours early.

Also the whole time I've been feeling really out of place no matter everyone being nice to me. I’m thinking maybe it’s because I’m dressed wrong, I should be in scrubs. So before the shift on the final day, I get a ride and get some scrubs, instead of using the company voucher (which will only cover the cheapest scrubs in the building), I buy a set with my own money because I’m thinking I may quit today. So I go home change eat shower and wait for my shift to start.

I get there 10 minutes early, an easy feat, thanks to being across the street, and I go to see the boss for my day’s assignment. I know from the two days of training generally what I’m supposed to do, I thought on the second list to bring a pad and paper to take notes and I have them with me, but if I’m going to be a robot I’d like a little programming. I find out that my boss isn’t going to be there today. Which worries me because I don't even have a punch card, who’s going to sign my blue sheet saying I was here today? Anyway I ask some co workers what they think I should do and they nicely explain stuff, and I start my first task, which is dust mopping. The office where they keep the trash bags was locked and the keys they gave me didn’t open the door I had no supervisor to address questions to, none of that was the straw though. Here's what did it, the Coup de grace, to my career as a housekeeper at Woodland Oaks.

As I begin dust mopping, a singularly useless activity on par with writing "I am futile" 100 times, I walk past Nora, a sweet old lady that they park in the hall all day and won’t let her sleep. In an effort, (I presume, I may be wrong) to try and make it so she doesn’t ask to sleep and since they know she won’t be in bed they take their time redoing her bed the only bed I ever see undone is hers. Anyway, she stops me, apparently I’m expected to rove around the hall like a robot ignoring the elderly humans or giving them platitudes instead of real attention. I can’t do that, so I stop, she might be pulling my chain but I don’t know that yet it’s like my first day. She very lucidly explains by way of a question, that they haven’t fixed her bed and asks me what I would suggest that she do I say I'll look into it I go to the nurses station and ask about her bed, they say they'll get to it, dust mopping takes me in a full circuit of the facility so I tell Nora I'll be back and if its not done by the time I get back I'll pester them I come back around and sure enough its not done so I head to the nurses station but there's an aid on her way into Nora’s room, so I talk to the aid and she asks me why I'm wearing blue, in kind of a harsh tone. I’m like because they told me to. The reason I think she asked is because she's a SRNA and I'm housekeeping and SRNA's wear dark blue, house keeping wears brown, male house keeping wears dark blue as well. Sexist I know but hey whatever, I'm reminded of the star belly Sneetches. Though the day I walk past a good 15 people. People I'd walked past before and nodded at and said hi too... in button up and slacks, and I got nods and smiles. This time around I'm the invisible man because I'm in scrubs and I fold. I can’t take the classism, I can’t take the apathy, I can’t take the pain and the greed.

So that's it. I’m jobless again.


Goose said...

this is the best thing you've written in this blog. you should write more of it.

Innomen said...

I kinda can't. I can't afford to quit my current job.


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I'm a politically and culturally subversive author with obsessive tendencies and a lot of free time. I feel a sense of personal responsibility for the fate of my species. My writing is the result.

My primary blog is at but this G+ profile is a far more active representation of my viewpoint.

Generally I feel the answer to society's ills are technological in nature not political or cultural.

Having said that, I do have political positions of course and I strongly feel that we need to embrace nuclear power and deploy a universal basic income.