August 14, 2011


A Tribute To Douglas Ertel And The State Workers Who Made His Life A Little Easier (John Zogby, 8/10/11, Forbes)

Douglas Ertel passed away on Aug. 6. He was 59 years old and you have never heard of him. He was my wife's younger and loving brother - and for the past 52 years was, in technical terms, a "ward of the state." Severely mentally retarded, he was placed in a New York State dormitory facility at the age of 7 because his family had no other options for his care in the 1950s. Since 1998, he was a resident of an independent residential alternative group home. [...]

It is so fashionable to bash "state workers," to hate unions, to tell isolated favorite stories of nameless bureaucrats who earn too much, have benefits that many of us do not have (and for which we are paying), who carp endlessly about grievances on the job, and are mean to us who are simply looking for basic customer service. This stereotypical state worker never entered Doug's life. He was blessed with state-funded caretakers who were folks who loved him as much as we did.

And they have names like Katy, Lisa, Frank, Sandy, Colleen, Brian, Marie and Lynn. There are many more, too. Kathy tells me how heartbreaking it was for her (at age 8) and her parents to have Doug moved from his family home into a state facility. It still haunts her to this day. Through much of his life he was in a dormitory facility and the heartbreak would be relived each Sunday (without fail) when they all came to visit. Geraldo Rivera may be a controversial and at times polarizing figure, but he exposed the horrible abuses, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, N.Y., in the 1970s. It was Geraldo's important work that led to necessary reforms in our treatment of thousands of people like my brother-in-law. We should all be grateful that the state governing system responded with a more humane and effective program of group homes, day clinics, and outpatient services.

...and OGJ.

One of the Grandfather Judd's peculiarities as a judge was that he wouldn't send anyone to a jail unless he'd personally checked out the conditions to ensure they were humane. One tale holds that after having to send a guy to Lewisburg sight unseen, he drove the Grandmother Judd there for a visit and while she was talking to the warden they lost track of him. He was found speaking to the guy he'd sent there and asking how they were treating him. At any rate, while he closed The Tombs, we never saw him more shaken than after he visited Willowbrook.

Posted by at August 14, 2011 6:59 PM

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