An Untold Story of Early Retirement

I have mentioned retiring early, and many are under the assumption that I was fortunate, and in many ways I am. However, I want to share with you the rest of that story. I retired from nursing a few years ago in 2011. The stress at the time was unbelievable. I am an empathetic and sensitive nurse. I was working in pediatric extended care. The last four of the eight years I was there were terrible. There were nurses, caregivers, behaving like criminals.

Caught in the crossfire, I spent my time at work dodging bullets and watching the kids under my supervision like a hawk. There was an out and out gang war between the Haitians, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Jamaicans who staffed the facility (not a prejudice, but a fact). It was a large facility with over 400 on staff and I was the only white woman on night shift. The women were vicious as they tried to get each other fired and their friends hired. They were cutthroat at each other, and placing young lives in jeopardy.

Seriously, I spent my time outside of work giving depositions to lawyers, writing letters to corporate, filling out police reports, and doing everything I could to protect children from the very people who were supposed to be providing them with a warm, nurturing, loving, compassionate environment. It was horribly sad. I’m not talking about neglectful care, I am talking about deliberate abuse that left children with injuries and put them into hospitals. Some even died. It was THAT bad.

I don’t talk much about my nursing career on my blog. I have shared a few stories, but the taste my final years left in my mouth was so bitter it is not something I can easily look back on. There were a half dozen law suits, and several of the women involved dealt with dire consequences. A few were arrested. I was threatened by one. I went on medical leave and ultimately resigned, which forced the resignation of others.

There was some justice this year when the facility was shut down midst allegations of abuse and neglect and I was more than glad I was no longer a part of it. There was a big write up in the paper. It was splashed all over the six o’clock news. The children were placed into medical foster homes. Now that some of these cases are settled I feel I can freely talk about it. The consolation is that the kids get much better care in the small private medical foster homes than they ever could in a large state funded institution.

Having processed this all through two different administrations, I felt deeply inadequate and powerless when I was in the thick of it and it took a couple of years to mellow out about it. I was angry. I was mad about what was happening to the children and families involved. I was mad about what was happening to my innocent co-workers (the ones not involved dealt with professional and emotional consequences, also). I was disturbed that a thirty year career in health care had boiled down to such a catastrophe. The feeling of failure was enormous.

Yesterday I shared this with another blogger/author friend. You may wonder why I am sharing this with you now. I think it is the reason that you don’t see cute little anecdotes about me and my patients. There were many before all of this went down. Looking back beyond those few final years, I can laugh. I can recall the joys and triumphs of my patients and coworkers, but it has been a long while. There is a new category on my blog called “Nurses Notes”. I am hoping the stories added under this category will be more entertaining than this one.

My apologies that this is such a downer.

Just something I needed to share.

All proceeds from sales of Red Clay and Roses are matched and go to the Russell Home for atypical children.

49 thoughts on “An Untold Story of Early Retirement

  1. You’re an amazing woman, and an inspiration. The sad fact is, humanity is inherently inhumane at times, and I’m always sorry when children are caught up in it. God bless, and keep on doing what you do, so that those with no voice will be heard.

    1. Thanks Connie. That’s precisely why I had to take action. The children had no voice. It was hard, but I cannot say I have regrets, maybe some unresolved pain.

  2. I’ve said this before and will repeat, “You have a lot of books in you.”
    Glad to hear the ‘mess’ was cleaned up and the children saved from added abuse or mistreatment. Children should never suffer.

    1. Thanks Tess. The suffering was bad for the children, families, innocent nurses…it was just bad all the way around. But it is over now, for the most part. All the pending cases when I left have been tried or settled, except one. And it’s close.

  3. Thank goodness you were there to fight for the kids and they’re getting better care now. You deserved an early retirement after dealing with all that!

    1. Thanks! I have to say I agree. I work part-time doing health fairs for corporations. I don’t work in the sickness/illness side of healthcare anymore. It’s healthier for me that way. I was a foster kid myself, but a healthy one. These kids deserved better care than that monstrous facility could ever provide, even with excellent nurses. We had an excellent crew the first four years I was there. But our abilities were barely adequate with the resources we were provided.

    1. I’d like to say it had a happy ending but so many staff and patients/families suffered. When I first got word from an old girlfriend who still worked there that the facility was closing, it was bittersweet. On one hand, I knew the patients would be better off, on the other, so many were put out of work. It just wasn’t pretty any way you tried to look at it.

      1. They try to sell health care to our young people as a utopia for a career. They need more, more, more. The reality is often different. (Disclosure: Old What’s Her Face works in health care at a hospital.)

        1. I went through a reality shock when I went from nursing school to a real job. There are many wonderful places where the care is truly awesome, but not in most state funded facilities. One of the reason i had started working there is that it was five minutes from my home and it was sort of like a stepping stone to get into Arnold Palmer Hospital…I never felt calm enough to tackle a new situation, however, but many of our younger girls went over there.

  4. Thank you for sharing this part of your life story, as well. We need more open expression of compassion and commitment to making changes, as you have shown by the risks you took to draw the attention of others to this sad situation.

    1. Thanks, Patrick, for your support. At the time I was a whistle blower in so many ways, because there was so much attempt at cover up. Administration turned a blind eye to what was wrong. And innocent people were wrongly let go because it was easier to send them packing than to deal with the ones who had high dollar attorneys. I’m really glad it is over.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this difficult post. I think that nursing lost a compassionate and caring professional but am so glad you are channeling that into the beautiful books you write.

    Of course, you’re not alone. I know talented and inspirational teachers who finally “burn out” after fighting a system that puts the children at the bottom of the political priority list. I know caring and committed social workers who leave a system that overworks and under-compensates them. I know amazing business professionals who give up on the politics and old-boy networks.

    But even if you’re not doing what you trained for, there could be ways for you to share your expertise. A nurse I know does period parties for girls who about to start menstruating, answering lots of questions in a personal, relaxed setting like a slumber party. Another friend provides business advice for fledgling companies started by women returning to the workforce.

    I also took one of those “early” retirements—even though it was a couple of years before I finished with the depositions and legal followup. I have a lot of fun providing pro bono consulting for startups and nonprofits, plus I help people with their resumes and can’t even count the number of practice interviews I’ve conducted for people preparing for a job interview.

    It’s amazing how much fun it is to use what you know when there is no pressure. Hopefully, your experience and expertise will find a channel too. Even if you never give another shot or hoist another bedpan, the skills and professional experience you have will continue to inform whatever you do. And that just makes all of us luckier to have you!

    (Not to mention that you’re a writer now. You can totally kill, maim, and extract sweet, sweet vengeance on those people, and then announce that any resemblance to actual folk is just one hell of an amazing coincidence…)

    1. Thanks for the laugh! I’m giggling now. It is funny that you bring this up. If and when I ever get my crime novel readable, you will see that I have done precisely that, in my deviant, but delightfully obscure sort of way.

  6. Wow. I guess the plus side is that some of the kids had you while you were there. That entire situation sounds simply surreal and disappointing. Sadly, I can’t say this is the first time I’ve heard of places that help others being so corrupt and destruction.

    1. You know, it breaks my heart to acknowledge that you are right. One boy, who died at age twenty -one and not because of abuse but the anomaly he was born with, had a painful procedure that had to be performed every day. It was time-consuming, because of the pain involved he would fight with the staff and we had to hold him down. Rather than deal with him, nurses would throw a towel over him, let him lay there is his own body fluids, and wait for me to come on duty, which resulted in his skin becoming red and raw, making it even more painful for him to tolerate the care he required. It was really a sick situation. That was just one routine thing I encountered. It was the horrific stuff that was not routine that was worse.

  7. What a stunning tale. I’ve heard similar stories before, and I used to see hints of this kind of trouble when I had a job that took me into nursing homes from time to time. Thanks for trying so hard to make things better…

    1. Thank you, Kevin. Even though I wasn’t there when they closed it down, I do know my persistence with pushing issues was a factor…even if it took three more years. The syrupy slowness of bureaucracy and the courts.

    1. Sadly, Florida is filled with these sorts of scenarios because of the high amount of institutional living among the elderly. These were kids, but the adults are vulnerable also, I don’t do any sickness/illness type care anymore. I do health fairs part-time for corporations. Just could not deal with it anymore.

    1. Thanks Mark. I have ownership of my feelings though, and that’s what it felt like at the time. Not exactly a gold watch moment. On a brighter note, the rocket scientist got his twenty-five year pin today at Lockheed.Just four and a half more years and he’ll be able to sleep in every day.

      1. I totally get your feelings. There are things that go on at my office (nothing like what you experienced) but just general incompetence and people doing stupid things. Because of my position (high level management) I’m somewhat technically responsible for anything that might go wrong. It’s basically my job to make sure that nothing goes wrong. But there is only so much I can do and I’m trying to let go of the feeling of responsibility for everything. I can’t control what I don’t know about. I can’t control what I don’t have input on. And I can’t control what those who are above me decide to do or not do.

        As for the rocket scientist … it’s a race, I’m at just over five years. Only problem is that I don’t know how to sleep in any more. But I’ll be able to take a nap every day. 🙂

        1. Florida is an “At Will” employment state. But like many government funded places, the ability to hire and fire was stifled by politics. Administration knew about things that were happening, but the facility attorneys dealing with employee’s attorneys walked on eggshells. Amazingly, write ups on certain employees (we’re talking a half dozen serious violations), would “disappear” from personnel files. There would be a mandate for anger management counseling, and the slate would be wiped clean…only to start all over again. Ridiculous. Yet other nurses would be caught taking no-doz (OTC) on the job and be fired. Too weird.

          1. Virtually every disciplinary action I get involved in ends with a settlement that includes withdrawal of the action from the employee’s file. So they go on to another state agency without the disciplinary record there. Then they screw up there and the same thing happens. Over and over.

            1. Government is the worst. I worked Forensic Psychiatry and Public Health in GA for the State. That was when we were downsizing big institutional care and promoting community outpatient service. I saw that happen so much. It being a fairly small community. The record would say one thing but the rumors were rampant. I was Assistant DON and we did structured interviews, so there was only so much we could ask at hiring time. We always found out the unofficial truth AFTER a person was hired.

  8. You are a sensitive person – it comes through in your blog posts. I can’t begin to imagine the stress connected with nursing, and especially what you were confronted with. Perhaps one day you’ll write about these experiences, perhaps use it in your fiction. I hope so.

    1. There was a time, many years ago, when I seriously encouraged young people to get into healthcare as a career choice. In my career, I went from having floor nurses in a nursing home being assigned four patients to be assigned forty four patients. I wouldn’t want to be entry level in the field today.

  9. You are just incredible, Susan, and I’m glad to call you a friend. Thank you for allowing us to know you better through these horrific experiences and how you made it to the other side. xo

  10. Wow, how terribly sad for the those kids and awfully terrifying for you. I can’t image having to work in a place like that! You made a smart move getting out. I think what you’re doing now is so kind and generous– donating your book proceeds– there’s a special place in heaven for you I’m sure.

    1. You are so kind to say so. I give them a check for this first half of the year tomorrow and I know they will put it to good use. The lady has twenty-five kids.

  11. What a horrible experience! At least the kids had you and a few others to help them. It makes me extra sad when people who are in professions dedicated to helping people instead choose to be sadistic bullies. To victimize a helpless population is a crime against humanity. I’m glad you spoke out. I’m so sorry you experienced this, but you did some good. You are a good person.

    1. Thanks, Merril. It was so sad. Still is. The place was shut down recently and I felt for the ones who were dedicated. Some had been there since it opened and were very kind and good to the kids. I hated to see them lose their jobs. Yet, I know the kids are better off.

  12. I look forward to ‘Nurses Notes’! My mother was an RN and the director of a large Home Health Agency in her last 30 years of work. It seemed she would never retire! The stories I wish I had down on paper would probably make you laugh and cry today! (Can you tell I’ve been away and I’m catching back up with you?) 🙂

    1. Catching up is good. Everybody needs a break now and then. We haven’t had a real vacation in a couple of years and we are long overdue. The last one we took a three year old and a pregnant mama. We need a break with just the two of us.

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