Today I walked through Somerset. Two days ago, the process of relocating all three hundred some odd residents began. The place is swarming with outsiders. The state has representatives there. Numerous community agencies have sent representatives. Other, similar psychiatric facilities have sent representatives. It’s a feeding frenzy.
The feeling was surreal. Last week, the building was tense, on pins and needles with the surveyors reassessing whether or not the facility had sufficiently addressed the problems the federal team recently identified. Residents would periodically ask whether or not the building would be closed and would they have to find a new place to live, to which we could only honestly reply, we hope not. I think few among staff believed closure was a real possibility. Opinions varied as to how serious the problems were, but few, if any, believed the problems were of a scope and severity that would lead the state or federal government to actually close the facility. I don’t know when and how the staff were informed. I can’t imagine their initial reactions.
I am not sure many have absorbed the reality. Certainly some residents are having trouble. Some refuse to sign a release of information allowing caseworkers to provide information to potential placements. Some have retreated into delusional worlds. Some reach for fantasy placements with family or independent living that are, sadly, out of their reach. The higher functioning residents will be grabbed up first, while the lower functioning, more difficult patients will languish and struggle to find an adequate new home. Staff and residents alike are busy as bees, precluding much reflection on what, exactly, has just happened to them. One resident, typically manic shouting out ridiculous statements—“I own all of Starbucks, you know”—with a wry self-awareness of his own craziness, is sullen and silent. Many residents desperately try to reassure themselves they will like their new home. The higher functioning attempt to assert some control over where they go. But on the whole they are powerless and without many options. The best they can do is hope for the best. And many of them have no resources or social support to cope with the stress of being uprooted and relocated arbitrarily. Many have no family, no friends. Almost none have any financial resources. This place was their home. The staff people they saw every day for 15 years, their family. They don’t get to keep in touch. They get only partial, disjointed good-byes. They get shipped off as soon and as efficiently as can be managed.
I entered the facility today knowing it would be my last day there. There is no more need for a consultant. There is nothing I can do now (apparently there was little I could do before). I hoped to say goodbye. To take some pictures. To reflect on what happened with at least a few staff I worked more closely with. To check in with residents I had spent time with. It was impossible. There were so many residents to talk to, so many staff to say goodbye to, everyone in chaos and motion. . . I got a few random pictures, talked to one or two staff members, tried to reassure a couple of residents. . . and then, overwhelmed, I left. Closure was impossible, a luxury ill-afforded as the world, overnight, shifted for these people, the coordinates of reality suddenly slipping and sliding around leaving only one thing to do: reach out, grab on to something and hope you don’t fall. Some have very little to grab onto.