From Roseville, MN — 12/21/2007
As a former employee with more than six years of service in the company and many fond memories of my time there, I can say that ACR does valuable work for vulnerable people who need both quality care and social support. At the same time, employees are subjected to difficult working conditions (which are inherent in direct care) and the unfortunate tendencies of management to foster a self-congratulating and insular office culture as well as a totalitarian style of leadership and discipline.
As regards pay, ACR's compensation is certainly adequate for part-time work and exceeds what one might find in other service positions. For full-time employees it may be more difficult to live on wages earned. As the company readily admits, raises are few and far between. This is attributed to legislative funding limits. At the same time, I often found that approval was given to pay as much as double-wage when a worker picked up a last-minute shift. This had the unfortunate effect of creating a situation where an employee working a regularly-scheduled shift (or one "picked up" before incentives were offered) could earn as little as one-half what a last-minute "emergency" worker would for doing the same job. Benefits at ACR are adequate but not extensive. Health insurance and pre-tax withholding are only offered to full-time employees. Scholarship programs are helpful for students and some retirement benefits are offered to part-time workers and reward longevity.
While residents are treated with great respect, employees are treated with less consideration. While the company issues statements about how valued employees are, I eventually came to the unfortunate conclusion that even workers in good-standing are considered expendable. On several occasions I saw excellent, long-term staff who had close relationships with residents simply vanish from the schedule without explanation. Employee input is not highly valued and dissent is not tolerated. On multiple ocassions, employees were disciplined for voicing disagreement with policies or conditions to other staff or supervisors. (This EXCLUDES circumstances where this was done in front of residents, which would have been inappropriate.)
I found this lack of respect for staff obvious in an incident where the decreasing mobility of several residents made a piece of equipment necessary. Despite periodic minor injuries, years of promises to remedy the problem through constantly-delayed renovation, and significant inconvenience for both staff and residents, the equipment was only procured after an employee was hurt and filed for workers' compensation. With this financial (and potential legal) issue at hand, not only was the equipment installed within days, but the injured employee received a personal letter from the company's president instructing her to refrain from any activities that might exacerbate the injury. Afterwards, we were encouraged to say "thank you" to several upper-level managers for this supposed act of benevolence.
A particular weakness of ACR is the tendency for people with little care experience with particular residents to be put in the position where they make policy decisions regarding care for those individuals. This happens especially at the "program director" level and above. In my experience, sometimes such supervisors know their residents on paper only and thus give plainly unworkable or even disruptive advice to staff who know the residents very well but have little authority.
Relations between staff and immediate supervisors were often good during my time with the company, but those between low-level caregivers and upper-level supervisors and policy-makers were often unpleasant and even humiliating. Managers spoke to staff in a patronizing manner and were fond of presenting staff with documents they were pressured to sign on-the-spot. Several of my co-workers left private meetings with managers in tears.
A human-services company like ACR will have steady business, but one must also be aware that infractions against company policy can result in the sudden termination of an employee in good standing. While this is understandable in some cases given the delicate and important nature of the work, in other cases it became quite apparent to me that good workers were terminated simply as scapegoats to make it appear that something serious had been done to remedy a problem.
Because of the decentralized nature of ACR work sites, location and conditions can vary significantly. Houses range from brand-new construction to dated structures in need of serious renovation. Supervisors vary in flexibility and level of regard for staff. A good supervisor with a good staff can take excellent care of residents and run a house well while keeping the disruptive influences of micro-managing central office staff to a minimum. The company does provide small bonuses or gifts to staff for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries of hire, which are greatly appreciated.
What I found most rewarding and valuable from my time at ACR were the relationships I formed with the residents I cared for and some of the other staff with whom I shared responsibility for the well-being of the former. Because of the highly-personal aspect of helping people with their (sometimes very private) needs, bonds between staff and resident can be very strong and meaningful. Additionally, the high pressure of the environment and dependence of staff on each other to manage difficult situations can lead to strong relationships within a team as well. I found most of the people I worked with at peer or immediate supervisory level to at least be honest and well-intentioned, and sometimes terrific. My time at ACR was a valuable experience for me, though I wish I would have left much sooner. Ultimately, it was relationships and not pay or lofty ideals that kept me in my job there.