The names that I list in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
Just Another Day On the Job…
I am a disciple of logic, an apostle of rationality. Doubt is my muse and skepticism is my passion. Six months ago, these inclinations were tested. I am a healthcare consultant and my job brought me face to face with something I couldn’t explain rationally. There was a mountain of evidence, but it all pointed to lunacy. For the first time in my life, something made me entertain the possibility of a supernatural explanation. I still can’t explain what happened, which scares the hell out of me.
One of my company’s clients is a hospice facility in the Midwestern United States. Due to confidentiality constraints, I cannot be more specific about the client’s identity. Let’s just say Trump did well in the hospice’s state. I flew out to the small rural town and spent the last week of October spending time with the staff. The setting reminded me of the corny (pun intended) but nostalgic Children of the Corn movie from the 80s; the hospice was literally nestled up against a corn field. I saw scarecrows. Actual scarecrows.
My job was to solve a problem that was costing the hospice an arm and a leg. The staff turnover rate was out of control. Employees were quitting left and right, which meant that recruiting and training expenses were bleeding the small company dry. Initially, the company’s HR department couldn’t get a handle on what was causing the mass exodus. They conducted exit interviews with every quitter, but the reasons they got for the resignations were vague and generic:
- Husband or wife got a job elsewhere, so they had to move.
- The hospice work setting wasn’t a good “fit” for them. It was too depressing.
- Pay was shit.
- They didn’t like the “culture” of hospice.
What made the turnover problem even more mysterious was the town’s high unemployment rate and limited job opportunities. The hospice paid their employees fair market wages. The facility was reasonably well-kept. The patient population wasn’t hostile or especially unpleasant. On paper, it seemed that folks that needed a job in that town should have been happy to work at the hospice. But they weren’t.
On my first day, I sat down with the hospice’s C-suite (CEO, CFO, CNO and various directors). I realized that they hadn’t been completely forthcoming in the briefing that they provided me with prior to my in-person visit. The reason that staff were bailing didn’t have anything to do with out-of-touch leadership or a toxic work culture. It had to do with superstition. The staff believed that the hospice was haunted. They were scared shitless. I was shocked when they told me the details. I’m an expert at operational change management and optimizing corporate culture, not debunking allegations of paranormal activity. Nevertheless, I was getting paid and I’m a horror fiend, so I gave it a shot.
I started shadowing with front line staff and got a feel for what their days were like. While hanging out with them and learning their workflow, I started delving deeper into the hospice folklore. Physicians were indifferent to the haunting hysteria and shrugged it off as idle gossip. They did their rounds, prescribed their meds and went home; they spent much less time with the patients than the rest of the staff did. Nurses, techs, certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, food service workers and managers, on the other hand, all pretty much told the same story. Those that remained on the hospice payroll didn’t have the luxury of being able to quit their jobs. They needed the money to make ends meet. But they sure wanted to bail.
When you work at a hospice, you’re always surrounded by death. It’s in the job description. The staff knew that. They were used to people dying. Hell, they were even used to semi-creepy things happening. But the people I spoke with were borderline traumatized. Those that were religious looked like a Christian bookstore threw up on them. Even those that weren’t religious wore crucifixes. One of the chaplains, a short Colonel Sanders look alike, was a retired pastor. He didn’t even get paid, he was just a volunteer. His name was Charley. Charley was especially disturbed by the hospice’s supernatural oppression. He had already done some investigative reporting of his own before I met with him. Because of that, he told me the clearest version of the story.
So here’s what went down… About two months before the hospice leadership contacted my company for consulting help, a matriarch of a small family went into multi-organ system failure and was about to die. The family that lived nearby was contacted and they came to the hospice to pay their respects before the patient passed on. The family members that visited the patient consisted of her daughter, son-in-in law and grandson. The grandson, a freckled, lanky ten-year old named Clayton, went to use the bathroom while the family was waiting in the grandmother’s room. Clayton suffered from a severe peanut allergy. While on his way to the bathroom, he noticed an energy bar laying on the nurses station. After sitting in his grandma’s room for hours, he was quite hungry so he stole the bar while no one was looking. The ingredients didn’t include peanuts, but the bar was manufactured in a factory that processes peanuts. Evidently, that was enough. About fifteen minutes after Clayton went to the bathroom, his father went searching for him and found his beautiful red-haired boy dead in the bathroom. Tragically, Clayton had gone into anaphylactic shock and suffocated.
The entire staff was mortified. Protocols were put in place to monitor visitors more closely to prevent future allergy-related catastrophes. Almost immediately after Clayton was poisoned, patient deaths increased exponentially. Folks who, according to the doctors, had months to live started dying out of the blue. Risk management quickly got involved but were not able to uncover a single instance of clinical negligence or malpractice on the part of the staff. The evidence pointed to a statistical anomaly: people just were randomly dying naturally and without warning.
The staff started noticing anecdotal patterns. Right before a patient would die unexpectedly, the patient would inquire to a staff member if the little red-haired boy had found the bathroom. The staff would then say something like “What boy?” The patient would then reply “The boy who was just in here. He couldn’t find the bathroom.” The staff member would then look around the halls for a red-haired boy and when they returned, the patient was dead. When the staff left their patients, they were always completely stable. In the minute or two that the staff member was out of the room, the patient went from stable to dead.
The more time that passed since Clayton’s death, the more disturbing the patients’ accounts of the little red-haired boy became. Patients no longer told staff members that the red-haired boy was looking for the bathroom. Instead, they said that the red-haired boy was looking for the staff members themselves, and the patients stated that the boy used the staff members names specifically. When the patients would ask why the boy was looking for the staff members, he would tell them that his friend wanted to ask them which employee liked to hurt little kids. At this point, patients started dying in fits of hysteria, screaming bloody murder.
That’s when they called my consulting firm. After reviewing all the evidence, I wanted to know who actually left the energy bar out. Based on the events and patient accounts, I figured that was the only person that could fit that description, at least in that context. Unfortunately, there was no clear scapegoat. The hospice ordered those bars, which were kept in the break rooms for staff. Those bars were scattered all over the place. I flew back home on Halloween night and spent the entire flight trying to formulate a coherent proposal. I couldn’t.
The next week (first week of November), another ghastly event transpired at the hospice. One of the housekeepers, John, was found dead in his car, which was parked in the hospice lot. John was pushing seventy and the autopsy reported that he died of suffocation. This was no surprise to those that found him. John died with his dick in his right hand, his phone in his left hand and a tie wrapped around his neck. Police, and everyone else with eyes, concluded that he died while attempting auto-erotic asphyxiation. Disturbingly, child pornography was found on his phone and in his car. An investigation was launched into his past to determine if he was a serial pedophile. Tragically, that investigation was fruitful.
Once John died, life at the hospice went back to normal. Patients came and went, but there was never mention of a little red-haired boy or his vigilante friend. Turnover stabilized and the staff rested easier at night. The reason I’m so adamant about preserving the anonymity of the hospice isn’t because of confidentiality agreements, it’s because I don’t want this tragedy to negatively impact the future of a noble establishment. The people and patients of this hospice are the salt of the earth. They’re absolutely wonderful and I was glad to know them.
This story frustrates me. I can’t explain it rationally. I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. At the very least, maybe it means justice prevails…at least sometimes.