Ask for a Social Worker, Get a Nurse

This is a complaint against:

  • The Visiting Nurse Association at 1050 W. Genesee St., Syracuse NY 13204, for abandoning me.  I am so sick that I need 24-hour care but the VNA has left me with no care at all.
  • VNA CEO Mary Kate Rolf, for failure to maintain policies of transparency and accountability, among other things;
  • Vice President Gail Carmichael, for repeatedly lying;
  • Director Amor Bango, for multiple wrong actions regarding terminating a patient (R.N. license 241006, 10/24/72);
  • R.N. Sharon Cwikla (pronounced “shivequa”), for failing to notice that her patient in independent living needed placement in a skilled nursing facility (license 479984).

My name is Anne C Woodlen; I am sixty-five years old and multiply disabled.  I have no family and live alone.

I have been a patient of the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) for about a year.  Sharon Cwikla has been my nurse and has been in my home about fifteen times, usually for catheter change.  I considered Cwikla to be an above-average nurse and believed we had a good working relationship.

On July 13, I was subjected to a severely traumatic situation which caused my overall health to substantially worsen, including a diminished mental capacity for handling my own affairs, so I called the VNA and requested a social worker.  Instead of sending a social worker they sent the nurse.

On Friday, July 20, I was lying in bed with my eyes closed when Cwikla arrived.  She began to pepper me with questions that I couldn’t understand and information that I couldn’t remember.  She said she was very busy and I was an emergency add-on.  Cwikla was rapidly going over me with oximeter, blood pressure cuff, stethoscope and glucometer.  (My glucose was around 350.)  She was doing all this stuff while I was trying to tell her what I really needed—help with paperwork.  I was overwhelmed, Cwikla wasn’t listening, and I snapped at her.

Cwikla responded by lecturing me on polite behavior.  She had worked with me for a year and certainly knew that normally I was polite.  Instead of focusing on the patient and questioning the patient’s atypical behavior, Cwikla focused on herself and her needs.  I responded by telling her to leave.  I meant, “I can’t stand this—get out of my face this minute!”  I assumed that Cwikla would come back at some other time and we would continue our working relationship.  I considered it a minor tiff.

About twenty minutes later I got a phone call from Director Amor Bango telling me that I had been terminated, and rattling off the terms of the termination, which I was too sick to understand.  I asked Bango if I could tell her what happened and she replied, “No” so I hung up.  I was shocked that one bad day with a good nurse could suddenly result in me being abandoned by my home health care service.

Bango should have listened to both sides of the story; she refused to.  Any frontline worker can have a bad day and miss something important.  Bango neither directed Cwikla to go back at another time and reevaluate, nor did she send any other nurse to do an evaluation.  Bango has never met me, although we have had several unproductive phone conversations.

What conversation did Bango have with Cwikla?  Bango should have asked how I was—was I behaving normally?  In fact, most of the time when Cwikla comes I am out of bed, dressed and making coffee.  This time, I was flat on my back in bed with my eyes closed.  There is every indication that Bango backed an irritated nurse without any regard for her responsibility to care for a very sick patient.

For Director Amor Bango to have terminated me twenty minutes after a minor exchange of harsh words with a nurse is simply unforgiveable.  To the best of my recollection, I didn’t even use any swear words.

One of the things Bango did tell me was that Cwikla would come Monday, July 30, to change my catheter.  In other words, two uniformed nurses, one of whom was so angry at me that she was refusing ever to speak to me again, would stand over me while I was alone with no one to protect me from any angry excesses, and I would lay on my back, spread my legs, and let the angry nurse insert a foreign object into my body.  Would anybody in their right mind submit to such an appallingly dangerous situation?

On Tuesday, July 24, I wrote to the executive director of the VNA (see attached), protesting my termination.  I got no reply.

Also on July 24, Dr. James Tucker, who is director of Family Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital, had a 15-minute phone conversation with Bango in which he tried to get my nursing care reinstated.  Afterwards, he came into the treatment room to see me and was very disturbed by Bango’s lack of compassion and respect for the patient, and her rigidity in not reconsidering the termination.

During the meeting with Dr. Tucker, I told him that I was tired of all this; I didn’t want any more strangers.  I didn’t want the catheter changed anymore.  He and I both understood that either removing it or not changing it would be, in his words, “catastrophic.”  Dr. Tucker and I agreed that the next step would be a referral to Hospice, which he would do that day.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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