Nancy Aleshire is fighting mad. Her son, Timothy Aleshire, 27, was near death Wednesday, after being physically restrained by four people at his state-operated workplace in Eden Prairie.
Aleshire isn't making excuses for her son, who has struggled for years with schizophrenia, developmental disabilities and Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. She is candid about his violent history, including coming at his 4-foot-10 mother with a knife on a few occasions, and nearly strangling her on another. The key word, though, is "history."
For the past four or five years, Tim, who lives in a group home in Minneapolis with a trained, round-the-clock staff, has been making impressive progress. He was taking his antipsychotic medication and hadn't struck his mother in that entire time. He was not problem-free, but his emotional outbursts were fewer and his strategy for dealing with them encouraging.
"When he would see himself getting aggressive, he would go into his room, as opposed to hurting somebody," Nancy said. "That's where he was at."
Something happened Dec. 31 that caused him to swing at a co-worker at Metro Resources Technology Park. He was held down for an unknown period, then rushed to Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina. According to the medical report, he had no pulse for 30 minutes.
His mother signed papers Tuesday to allow his organs to be donated should the time come. She hopes criminal charges will be filed or, at least, somebody will get fired.
"My question is: Why four people?" she said. "Being the victim of Tim's assaults, I certainly understand the need for restraining him, but that never resulted in him losing consciousness and going into cardiac arrest.
"Tim," she said, "would want me to fight for him."
Finger-pointing is human, but more helpful is a transparent investigation, which the police and state Department of Human Services have promised.
What's also needed is training about when and how to use force or physical restraints, and we've got miles to go on that one.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness; www.namihelps.org), has been advocating for training in the use of restraints for more than a decade. A bill finally passed in the last legislative session, restricting their use in schools, but "some people were worried that we were making too big of a deal over it," she said. "This is exactly why."
Children, she said, have died at schools and in day-treatment facilities around the country due to overuse or misuse of restraints. "There is a way to do it and a way not to do it," Abderholden said. "And [restraints] should be used only in emergencies, and never as punishment."
Christopher Onken, president of several Zumbro Houses, including the Minneapolis location where Tim Aleshire lives, also said restraints are most effective as a last resort. This protects not just the perpetrator, but the staff person, too.
"As a provider, we always try to use alternative means to maintain safety of the folks we serve," Onken said. That can mean adjusting medications, increasing psychological interventions or, perhaps, removing a staff member who might be exacerbating problematic behaviors. Developmental disabilities, such as those Tim Aleshire has, can make it even tougher to articulate one's needs, Onken said. "All we can do is give them a forum to express their needs in a more adaptive way."
When physical intervention is necessary, he added, "we work hard to minimize the amount of time we have to do that." Onken, however, said that he has no evidence that Metro Resources staffers did anything "inappropriate." A spokesperson at Metro Resources said the staff is "having a tough time," but declined to be interviewed.
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 firstname.lastname@example.org