The question is the easy part: How could this happen?
The answer? Well, that’s not so clear.
We know this much: The March 27 death of Bobbie Kolada, a caregiver in a Medford group home for the developmentally disabled, came about through a variety of factors — all of which point to a system in extreme need of review and, ultimately, improvement to minimize the chances of what happened to the 66-year-old grandmother from repeating.
“My mom had survived a lot in her life, and for it to end like this feels really wrong,” Kolada’s daughter, Jessica Bandy, says in the conclusion of the Rogue Valley Times’ series about the inherent dangers for those in extreme caregiving situations.
“I want to know what policies they’re changing as a result of this happening,” Bandy says. “I want her friends to be safe. … I want my mom to have a voice.”
Bobbie Kolada’s voice will echo in the repercussions that follow the details of her death.
Questions will surround the operation and staffing needs of group homes, the legal loopholes that can prevent potentially dangerous individuals from being institutionalized under stricter supervision, and how established emergency protocols can be followed to the letter yet lead to the tragedy that unfolded Feb. 20.
Those matters, each imperative in their own right, are outside the realm of an equally important part of the story.
How are we, as a society, supposed to care for the developmentally disabled — particularly those, as apparently is the case here, who are nonverbal and are reduced to “communicating” through a pattern of physical interaction.
Oregon has a well-documented — and checkered — history when it comes to its treatment of those facing developmental and psychological challenges. It always has been simple to ascribe their actions as being outside the norm, evidence that they need to be put away … somewhere.
The “where,” of course, leads to an entirely difference set of questions without clear answers.
That’s true even in this extreme case, where the man involved has an established history of what — from the outside — can be seen as ranging from “acting out” to “violent behavior.” And yet, because he’s incapable of aiding in his own defense, the options under the law for his care are circumscribed.
We seek clarity, even under the most convoluted and emotionally distressing of circumstances. But it’s important not to reach for the easy answers — here’s what happened, here’s who’s at fault — and in doing so bypass the level of understanding, of empathy, needed to keep us from painting all members of a troubled population with the same brush.
The Times’ series into the death of Bobbie Kolada and the dangers faced by caregivers wraps up today — but the story isn’t over, and we will follow it through.
We’ve already heard from others with stories to tell, those who have worked inside the system of caring for the developmentally disabled, and from members of the general public asking the same fundamental questions raised by the series.
“How could this happen” is a question for those involved in the public and private sectors at the local, regional and state level to ask of each other, and of themselves — and, more importantly, provide answers that lead to fundamental changes in a system that, in this case, failed.
Maybe then, should those changes come, Bobbie Kolada’s voice will have been heard.
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