I have known Bill White since he began beating me up in his columns years ago. I have mostly taken the columns in stride. In fact, when you meet him, he’s a hard guy not to like. His latest hall of fame article portrays me as a whacky character who despite good intentions always seems to lose his cool and then, of course, loses his point with it. However, he and many others at the April 18th meeting of Northampton County Council, seemed to lose the forest for the trees. In other words, they missed my main point. However, after the meeting ended, even though I had calmed down at the time, no one other than a 69 news reporter even bothered to ask me or my client why we were there. So let me explain why. The County of Northampton has been paying providers of mental health services millions of taxpayer dollars to house a handful of clients. That alone is outrageous. However, while doing so, They are cutting core transportation services for the elderly clients I serve, which is not necessary and also ridiculous considering the millions they waste on provider housing. To make my point, I spoke with one of my clients who had survived the Nazi concentration camps at Dachau and asked if she would come along to tell her story. I explained to her, and she readily agreed, that presenting her case to council might help us save the services that the county intended to cut. I had climbed the county chain of command to explain the idiocy of their present policy. They rebuked my efforts and went as far as having our computer firm pull my internet records to see if they could slime my character and prevent me from challenging them on this issue. It didn’t work. I decided to approach council on the matter. That is when things begun to unravel.
I began my discussion in a lighthearted manner to address council on the new human services building they are building and my reasons for opposing it. Then when I began to speak on the policy matter that I was there to address, President Cusick challenged my right to speak further and tried his best to prevent me from speaking out. I tried to rush and get in my point but President Cusick attempted to silence me at every turn. After that, it turned into a charade and I was essentually rushed from the podium. I was stunned. In my years as a Bethlehem City councilman we never, ever, refused the right of a taxpayer to speak.
That is what democracy is about.
My client was heartbroken and began to cry. She was crying because she was there to be heard but she was so outraged by my treatment that she decided that she didn’t want to chance the same treatment. She did not speak. She was helped from the room by my friend because she was in tears and incredibly upset. She sat outside in the hall with my friend and no one even bothered to ask why she was there. They assumed wrongly that I brought her as some kind of prop. They were so wrong.
My client, we’ll just call her E.W. for the sake of privacy, was about five years old when her family was taken to a German concentration camp at Dachau. You see, her aunt, who was of Polish decent had the incredibly amazing courage to attempt to hide some of her Jewish friends from the Nazi’s, knowing that by doing so she could be executed at any time or carted away to a Nazi death camp. The Nazi’s discovered her secret and hauled her and young E. W. away to Dachau. I never really discussed with her what happened to her at the camp because once she explained just a smidgen of the story to me, I couldn’t stop myself from uncontrollably crying. Eventually, after two years at the camp, E. W. was freed by the Americans. However, just prior to their arrival, the Nazi’s began to burn the bodies to hide the crimes. EW, of course, witnessed these horrors and never forgot them. When she eventually married and came to America, landing in new Jersey, she was suffering from serious depression. She then received 31 shock treatments to help her to forget the horrors. These weren’t garden variety shock treatments. We are talking “One flew over the cuckoo nest” type treatments. Just one more horror following her past horrors.
Amazingly she eventually settled into the Lehigh Valley with her husband and raised an incredibly wonderful and successful family. She has many grandkids and great grandkids whom she proudly speaks of whenever we meet. She worked hard at a local nursing home for twenty years and retired a few years after her husband past away. However, still suffering anxiety and depression after all these years of trauma and the loss of her beloved husband, she turned to Northampton County’s Human Service program for help. She asked us for very little, mainly a ride to doctor’s appointments and a few errands here and there. She is one of around 15 clients whom I serve on a daily basis. She has been served by our county for about 8 years.
However, as of late, my county administrator of the Mental health program decided that her model of care did not include transportation for my elderly clients to their medical appointments. They said I should train them to be independent and assist them in taking the Lanta Van. My response was one of disbelief. Are we seriously going to ask elderly clients, including EW, who are in their 70’s and 80’s and whom have depended on our services for years to essentially take the bus? Are we seriously going to ask clients suffering from anxiety and depression and
other disorders to give up their socialization with their caseworker who in some cases is essentially the only friend they have? I refused to let this happen and fought them at every turn and still am. Remembering the compelling life story of EW (who could not) I ask that she attend the meeting of County council with me to plead her case. She readily agreed, believing as I did that her incredible life story might not only help her retain her meager services but also help others who desperately needed their services. Well to say the least, I foolishly thought that considering her story, juxtaposed with the story of wasted millions of taxpayers dollars for provider services to a handful of clients, Council would listen, and be in fact mesmerized, by her story.
I never got a chance. I was cut of right from the start. The heartbreaking ending here, sadly, was that EW’s heart was broken again because her story was never told. And no one there even bothered to ask her about her story, thinking wrongly that I brought her there against her will or to be used as a prop. In my defense I said, “For God’s sake, just ask her” No one did. No one bothered. Now I am slammed in local blogs and mocked by Mr. White in his latest column for merely trying to help EW tell her story. That’s sad. Not for me. I’ve been through this before.
The disturbing thing here is that EW’s story wasn’t heard and still isn’t being heard.
Jim Gregory, Northampton County MH caseworker.