When I wrote my three recent columns on Bethel New Life, it was done from the perspective of someone who has been up close and personal with both the assisted living facility on North Lavergne and the independent living facility on West Thomas. Not only have I been there numerous times, but I took the time to speak with actual residents about what has been going on at both residences.
When those who used to work for Bethel actually reached out and asked people to visit the facility without public notice, it shows the seriousness of their concerns. Plus, they were Westsiders themselves. As they lived in the community that they were serving, they were committed to Bethel in a way that those living outside the community wouldn't necessarily show.
I didn't decide lightly to criticize Bethel. When I first learned of them firing the entire staff, I took the time to look into it. And the more I looked, the uglier it got. Some have tried to claim that Mary Nelson, who founded Bethel, didn't have anything to do with the firing. My contention is that her silence on the subject is tacit to agreeing with what has happened. To see local residents lose their jobs because of whim instead of substance sends a very bad message to this community. I haven't even mentioned the ex-offenders who worked at Bethel for years and were let go before their "state waiver" came through, which would have permitted them to keep their jobs.
I read Steve McCullough's response in last week's paper. He mentioned three major points, and I feel I must respond.
First, he wrote, "The number of elders in need of critical services is growing at a rapid rate and the supply of services on the West Side does not meet the demand." Readers can use their own common sense to determine how firing an entire staff serves to help a situation here on the West Side where McCullough admits there is already a severe shortage. Not once did Bethel build upon their foundation (remember those fired employees had 10-plus years of service). Bethel has quickly forgotten where it came from, and now that its budget is in the millions, it has kicked to the curb the very folks whose talents got the organization there to begin with.
Second, he said, "Elders' needs are growing more complex. We are experiencing higher numbers of elders who have dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and mental and physical disabilities." Many illnesses and problems come with an aging population. So giving the seniors stability during that time would seem to be more productive than removing the staff that those seniors have come to know, love and trust. Society is quick to point out the disruption that comes with important people leaving a young child's life. The same can be said for our elders as well. There's a reason we have the saying, "Once an adult, and twice a child."
Lastly, McCullough wrote, "The final trend is that our elders come to us with increasingly limited resources. The state of Illinois is hindering our ability to provide services to low-income elders with its slow reimbursement for the care we provide. Based on these trends, we are always evaluating the quality of our work. In some cases, we have to increase our capabilities to address complex issues in care." If ever there was an "Aha" moment, this was it. This is not a wealthy community. So it is not shocking that the elders who look to live at Bethel don't have a lot of money. If you first get rid of the community members who work at Bethel, then you can slowly change the complexion of the people Bethel is serving and most of us would be none the wiser.
What is going on at Bethel is not done in a vacuum. The plans they make today affect us down the road. How can they speak for us when they don't live amongst us?
I invite Bethel residents to call or write this paper and tell the community what really is going on.
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