The Anita mentioned is of course director Anita Westbrook. The letter does give some insight into the challenges staff encounters without management (Director Anita Westbrook and acting Medical Director Dr. Babak Mirin) meddling with processes tha have been long in place.
I am a psych tech at Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center. I have been here for a few years and make between $9 and $12 an hour. The longer I have been here, the more likely I am to make less money. Newer people are being hired at a higher rate. Like most state employees, I haven’t had a raise in years.
I probably have children and I may or may not have someone to help raise them. I have to work a second job/collect food stamps/work extra shifts or even do all three to support my family. I have looked for other jobs, but it is hard to find a job. Besides, I like working at Sequoyah, or at least, I did. I have worked at other treatment centers or in corrections, and I would never work anywhere else. People have worked here for many years. Two psych techs actually retired and worked their entire careers at Sequoyah. Let me tell you why.
Before July 2012, Sequoyah was an amazing place. It was not perfect, and there had been changes with a new director, but overall it was still running really well. I work with some of the most difficult kids in New Mexico. I have worked with rapists, murders, and kids who had really hurt people. I am not afraid of them. They are human, just like me. Most of these kids have been horribly abused or neglected, which does not excuse their violent behavior, but it does help explain it. I know that if I treat them with dignity and respect, most times I get the same in return. And I feel like what I do is important and has meaning. I could tell you stories about kids that everyone else had given up on, and after they came to Sequoyah, they ended up doing ok. Not every kid does good after they leave, but there are enough to make it clear that what I do matters.
These residents act out. There are probably at least two or three restraints a week- sometimes more, sometimes less. There are countless times that I and the other staff worked through a situation and did not have to do a restraint. I hate doing restraints. I don’t know anyone who likes them. At Sequoyah, if there are people who “like” restraining kids or use restraints when they don’t need to, they do not last. It is not ok for any of us to use a restraint except as a last resort for safety and we all know that.
Like I said, I am not afraid of the kids. I am not stupid- I know every day that I come to work, I could get hurt. Staff get hurt, but it is usually minor, and we just know it is part of the job. It is a risk we take. I am not friends with everyone I work with, and I don’t even like some of them, but I did know they had my back. If I called on the radio for help, there would be someone there to help me very fast. Sequoyah has the best staff ratio I have ever heard of- we have at least 1 staff for every 3 kids. The state requires only 6:1. The managers work very hard to make sure every shift is staffed not only with enough people, but a balance between males and females and staff who have been here a while working with newer staff. Who is working is as important as how many staff there are.
I have been trained, and trained, and retrained on how to work with the boys. I know how to de-escalate them, and I know how to handle it if de-escalation fails. I was sure that if I was burnt out or being targeted by the resident, I had team mates who would take over. I didn’t have to say to restrain a kid by myself because we always worked as a team. And there was always a milieu supervisor on duty to deal with the really hard situations. Also, I knew that I could call my manager or the milieu director at any time, night or day, if I needed help.
Starting in July, things started falling apart here. The rules changed, but no one really told us. I had to do restraints that I did not think were necessary because some new doctor told me to. I had to watch a kid beat himself bloody and was not allowed to stop him because some other new doctor told me I could not. I asked my supervisors, and they asked their supervisors, and the only answer I got was “Do what the doctor says”. I started hearing that people were getting in trouble and worrying about their jobs.
I signed the petition because I believed what it said. I hoped that Anita would think about what was going on if she knew that so many of us saw the same problems. I have been worried ever since I signed it. I have seen people walked out of the building and they haven’t come back. I have heard that at least one person is being fired. My supervisors are scared and confused, and we no longer know what to do when problems come up. One day we are trusted to say if a resident is dangerous, and the next day we are told that we are not qualified to say that. We were told we have to call a nurse to decide, but it takes a long time for a nurse to come, and I am scared about what might happen while we are waiting. The nurses are so busy with their own stuff to do, it isn’t fair that they have to come do what has always been our job to do.
I heard that some of the managers got in trouble for not restraining a kid one day, and then got in trouble the next day because they did a restraint. Staff who do restrain kids are called into a meeting and have to explain what happened to the doctor and to the director. No one wants to be the one to restrain a kid because they don’t want to get in trouble. The responses to back-up calls take longer and less people respond because they don’t want to be in a restraint. I haven’t seen it yet, but I fear for the day we let a kid get hurt because everyone was afraid to do a restraint. It is a mess. I no longer feel safe when I come to work. It feels like at any moment everything could get out of control. Also, there are just not enough staff. Many of us are working overtime, but there are lots of shifts that are not staffed as carefully as before, and I just don’t feel like I have enough people around me to back me up.
And now they have taken away our spit nets. We are not told if residents have a disease such as AIDS or Hepatitis. We are taught universal precautions, and to treat everyone like they have a disease. Many of the kids spit and bite. Spit net are used to help us make sure we don’t get a disease. We have a policy that says when to use them, and we only use them when we have to. I feel even more scared now. If I have an exposure, I will have to spend my own time going to an urgent care or ER (staff don’t get paid for their time when they go to the doctor for a work related injury), I will have to get my blood drawn twice (once now and once in 6 months), and I will be worried the whole time that I may have gotten a disease and that I might expose my children. Why did this happen? Is administration punishing us or trying to run us off?
No staff appreciation day, no matter how well planned or what they feed us, can make up for what they have done to the morale of the staff. Someone once said we are “one big dysfunctional family”. We are not a family anymore. We are not even a team. Sequoyah is falling apart. I wish someone would see that, and help us, so that we can help the kids. Thank you for all you are doing and keep fighting for us and the kids.
-One of the Many Dedicated Psych Techs at Sequoyah
To all the staff at Sequoyah,
Continue to do what is best for the residents and keep yourselves safe. We are fighting for you and will continue fighting for you until there is positive change. We care about both the staff and residents at Sequoyah whose safety is paramount to anything else. I know management is making life difficult and retaliating against you. Management's bad day should never be your bad day. Their bad days are ultimately a good day for us and the truth. Stay strong and remain united.
Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. -Buddha
If you have any comments, concerns or words of encouragement please share them below.