Robert “Buddy” Harkness is a wheelchair bound man who was paralyzed by the effects of cerebral palsy. He has been reliant on healthcare professionals to care for all his needs. Harkness has to trust them with everything from feeding and bathing to helping him get dressed. Due to his disability Harkness was vulnerable and tragically one of those caregivers took advantage of that.
Tammy Labrecque was one of Harkness’s nurses for the last 15 years but something had gone wrong. Harkness told his conservator that he was being abused at the hands of Labrecque. They set up a nanny-cam of sorts to catch the nurse in the act.
On the very first day the camera was in use, Labrecque could be seen on tape screaming, cursing, and threatening him. She slapped his arms and legs, forced his arms over his head, and threatened to break his fingers.
Labrecque was subsequently arrested and charged in Waterbury court with felony cruelty to a person. She was found guilty and was just sentenced to 5 years in prison. A friend of Harkness read a statement to the court after the sentencing in which he called it one of the happiest days of his life. Labrecque told the court that she was under mental and physical stress at the time and had no memory of the incident. Not surprisingly Labrecque’s license was revoked shortly after her arrest.
It is important to remember that unfortunately Labrecque’s behavior is not an isolated behavior. The fact that this woman’s behavior was repeated frequently makes it especially abhorrent. But abuse by a caregiver can happen to anyone at any time. Working with people with disabilities can be a stressful profession. Most people do not go into that line of work with a plan to hurt others. They are well meaning individuals who want to help. The frustration and stress of working conditions, low pay, and difficult work can build up until a worker snaps.
Statistics show that abuse happens most frequently when a good person makes a bad decision when he or she is overwhelmed. That is why it’s imperative to be aware of the signs of stress and act before something serious happens. This articlehas more details about how to identify and avoid stress related abuse.
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