This is Ella, Mia’s partner. From time to time over the years I’ve posted on this blog as a way of illustrating the challenges of partners of those that live life with disabilities.
As regular readers of this blog will know, Mia had rotator cuff surgery on February 4th. After jumping through unimaginable hoops just to be deemed eligable and ready for the surgery itself, Mia finally had it done. Surgery brought with it lots of pain, and not only physical. Post surgery paperwork, documents upon documents of Q&A’s, clearly written for the masses and should never have been given to a person who lives life via a wheelchair including week by week physical therapy directions clearly only viable for those that are able to love and control all their limbs. When asked I was told that the physical therapists attached to their practice would be able to tailor therapy to Mia’s limitations and that she would in no way be held back from treatment.
Two weeks out from surgery Mia was given the all clear to proceed w/ physical therapy and ushered the less than 10 ft to very same surgeons physical therapy department only to be told they would not be able to schedule an appointment because they don’t see people in wheelchairs, to Qoute them they got in the way of “normal people”. I thoughts for sure that must be a mistake, so I did what I always do, I made a few calls. I spoke to a lovely lady named Jennifer at the physical therapy office who proceeded to explain to me that she had talked to Dr. Jobin (the surgeon) and had informed him that their practice cannot and would not be able to “accommodate” people that use wheelchairs because their presence endangers the safety of their patience. With a totally calm voice Jennifer proceeded to tell me that because the practices patience do 15 minutes of work w/ an actual physical therapist and the remaining session is spent using the facilities equipement on their own, the practice feels that disabled patience would present a hazzard to their clientele because the facility has equipments all over the floors. Jennifer proceeded to give me the names and numberos places she was sure were “more accommodating to us.”
One of those places had recently been bought out by a new to NY physicial therapy chain called Orthology. Orthology, when I read about it, seemed equiped to handle Mia’s care. When I first called, the physicial therapist I spoke to seemed attentive and welcoming and was well spoken when it came to adjusting standard rotator cuff treatment to folks in wheelchairs. Sadly that is where the pleasentries ended. The following week would be filled with a myriad of messes.
Whenever I arrange any appointments for Mia, I go through a check list. My check list goes beyond the standard — does the practice take my insurance or do they see new patients or do they have appointment times that fit with our schedule. I asked the receptionist, when attempting to schedule the appoints whether they are wheelchair accessible (and defined in very specific terms what that means – Can Mia enter the building from the ground level without using a back door? Can Mia use the bathroom in her wheelchair? Are their door frames wide enough for a wheelchair? etc), and wheelchair accessible to someone currently using a bulkier motorized chair. The answers were all positive so I scheduled the appt at the office closest to my office.
Several days later Mia called to reschedule the appointment because I was too busy to do that myself. After finally getting through to the practice after making a minimum of 6 calls, the appointment was scheduled at a location that the receptionist swore would be fine and accessible. Mia had a couple of additional questions that the receptionist said needed to be answered by her boss. And this is where just slightly annoying became frustrating. After days and days of no calls and calls with half the info offered and days of one person making claims about the pracitices accessibility but then someone else disagreeing and saying the facility wasn’t accessible, that one offices elevator was dependable but then wasn’t, when mia discussed it The person on the phone stated” I’ve never heard of any ADA,I’T can’t be that im[ortant or I would have heard of them?” .
Concern was mounting for sure. The only saving grace was that Julie, the therapist Mia was scheduled to see had called and had been lovely. Fast forward to the saturday morning of the appointment. We get up, (after a super long work week) and roll onto the train, get to the facility and the doors to the building itself were barely passable. Once inside the building, the elevator that had been sworn to be fully accommodating for Mia’s motorized chair was no where near.
Zues, Mia’s service dog, and I waited outside the building as Orthology’s rep came down and proceeded to be baffled by everything Mia had been explaining. Given everything that we had gone through just to get the appointment and how much Mia wanted to proceed with the therapy itself, she rolled around the block to the buildings freight elevator that was down an alley passed the back door of a restaurant and over a sidewalk filled with overflowing garbage and liquids reaking of decaying food. Nice huh. There was no marble filled building lobby, no comfortable elevator entrance, no opportunity to come into the practices office by way of a nice reception area. No, Mia, even after all of the calls and all of the hours of frustration and promises to the contrary, had to roll through the back entrance, where food is thrown away, and up an disgusting elevator.
Two hours later Mia emerges with Julie the physical therapist who proceeded to very kindly apologize to us both and had commited to speaking to the regional manager and explainingot them that they should make one of their other (and according to her wheelchair accessible) locations available for a weekly Saturday 2:15 to 3pm appt time w/ her available to Mia.
Ok… pain in the ass and heading and frustration was put aside because Julie and Mia hit it off and I felt we could move forward. Julie promised a call back to make those arrangements not immediately (as that was a saturday) but sometime Monday. When Monday was nearing an end Mia called and left a message for the manager she had originally spoken to. No call back came on Monday, no call back came on Tuesday so by Wednesday Mia was, understandably, at the end of the rope w/ frustration. On Wednesday I called Meredith, the women that ran the admin staff and low and behold she was out and had been out since Monday so no call would have ever been possible. I spoke to Anne, her underling. The conversation started w/ immediate defensiveness but ultimately Anne conceeded to finding out where things stood.
After I appealed to Anne’s professionalism and explained the plethora of mess she revealed that the practice was dealing w/ significant growing pains – not enough staffing that lead to offices not answering calls, new staff not being aware of what locations are able to accomodate, staff not understanding or knowing about the ADA, and one of the worst issues was that the NYC locations that were bought and had the name Orthology slapped on them where originally sports medicine practices and they had zero clue how to work with disabled patients and locations had not been tested or studied when it came to whether or not the clientele they would now be seeing could even get into the building. After an hour on the phone with her she told me she apologized endlessly. She said she talked to their HR department and was told that they would be developing an entire program to make sure that this didn’t happen again. She said she was told that even if she herself had to go to the various loctions and measure the elevators etc, they would make this right and Mia will have her appt that following Saturday w/ Julie. We agreed that I would measure Mia’s chair and email her that info. I did.
And again, I was lulled into a false sense of calm, made to feel like perhaps this experience had been worthwhile because we were paving the way for other disabled folks that then wouldn’t have to deal with all this crap. I went to bed expecting a simple email response with an appointed date and time.
I was wrong. The following day, Mia got a call from The company, a male who was aggressive, rude, loud, and wouldn’t let her get a word in and when asked identified himself as a telephonist but who in fact was part of the ownership that was the shear opposite to what I had been told would happen. Two minutes later I get a call from the two people. who said they didn’t want to work with us because we had threatened to sue the practice.
I’m guessing they equate a threat of lawsuit w/ the delivery of information that if they do not follow the ADA they would be up for a lawsuit – no threats were made. Then I was told that NO locations here in NYC were accessible if Mia was not prepared to use the back entrance. The went as far as to say that at one of the facilities should Mia roll up to the builidng, the building staff would refuse her entry (even though she could physical rolls in and board the same elevator as all other visitors) because it was building policy that anyone in a wheelchair must use the freight elevator. I called bullshit on that — nicely. And even if it were true, how anyone can pretend that is acceptable is beyond me. Second class citizen behavoir no doubt.
I was then told that even if the buildings was accessible, the offices that Mia could possibly use didn’t have weekend hours, and Julie, the therapist that herself said she was free and happy to work with Mia, I was now being told would not be available. I was also told that if Mia wasn’t prepared to see a therapist 3 days a week she would “never see results,” although her own surgeon requested a 1x a week plan and their own therapist said 1x a week and daily at home work at home would within 1 month have Mia using her own manual chair – I call that progress. When I explained all this, I was then told that they weren’t the “right” practice because they don’t have expertise in spinal cord injury patients. Hmmm…. I said “no worries, Mia isn’t coming in w/ spinal cord injury issues.”
I was then given a list of more appropriate offices that would be better for Mia. When asked why those were better they had zero clue.
Over and over again Orthology, a chain of “progressive” physical therapy practices, new to NYC, failed. They failed in every way, shape and form. They failed in care, they failed in organization, they failed in showing some humanity. The ONLY things they didn’t fail in were in passing the buck, in coming up with a myraid of excuses for why it was all our fault, for why our anger and frusration were unjustified and for why they were just trying to “help” and We were somehow making that immpossible.
Ultimately I cut them off and said that I had no interest in subjecting myself or my partner to any more of their abuse and I reminded them that if they are in the business of care then perhaps they might want to consider providing some and not use to a fragment of the population but to everyone.
And I am not done. I will be contacting their corporate offices and I will be letting them know that when you slap your name on the awning of a business you may want to make sure that it actually offers the service you herald yourselves for and to EVERYONE.