Chapter 5: An Innovative Approach to a Troubling Situation
Martina Trujillo was busy with her routine duties when she noticed Matthew Dudley installing some new type of shelving in the Store Room. Later that day, she learned that the Supervisors from the Assisted Living and Memory Care units had a meeting with Isabella about something. She had continued stealing diapers and other small items for her mother and her mother’s friends which was causing increased guilt and sleepless nights for her. She lived in constant fear that she would be caught and, at the very least, lose her job. Martina just knew that the new shelving was proof that someone suspected her. She decided to seek out Father Lopez, her priest at Our Lady of the Valley church.
Martina decided that she must bare her soul and tell Father Lopez the entire story and ask for forgiveness and guidance. She was only able to say, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned” when Father Lopez interrupted.
“My Child, I have heard how you are caring for your parents, particularly your father. It is a wonderful thing and our Holy Father is proud of you. I believe you have been called by God to do His Work and help those in our community who are less fortunate.”
“Oh, Father Lopez, it is all I can do to care for my own parents and my own small children. I don’t see how I could possibly do much more.”
Father Lopez placed his hand on Martina’s forehead and said, “Bless you, my child. You can do more. I’m sure that fancy place would not miss a few more diapers and other things that would be so helpful to my flock. You work in a place with many resources for its wealthy residents. I ask you, in God’s name, to use your position there to help. Jesus will guide and protect you. Help the less fortunate as He did.”
Martina was unaware that Father Lopez had spread the word at the local Senior Center which was actually a room in the basement at the Our Lady of the Valley parish church. He gave Martina a shopping list that included more of the basic items and some specific supplies such as oxygen tanks and nutrition supplements; there was also a need for supplies to monitor diabetes.
Martina was shocked and terrified. She had gone to Father Lopez for comfort and with the hope that he could provide a way out of this very difficult situation. Instead, she found herself in much deeper than before. She needed to talk to someone and tell them what was happening. She was very close to her brother; maybe he could help. Martina went to Los Compadres to talk to Martin about what she was doing and how bad she felt. “You can’t stop now, Martin said. These people are our neighbors and extended family and we must stick together. And, Father Lopez promised that Jesus would guide and protect you. How can I help?”
Martin suggested that Martina use one of the large laundry carts to smuggle even more supplies out of the building. She would simply package the items in large plastic bags and place them toward to bottom of the cart among the soiled bedsheets. When the Los Compadres van arrived at the loading dock, Martin would be present to sort the laundry and move the designated cart to the rear of the van. At the Laundry, the supplies would be retrieved and delivered to the church.
The operation had become more complex and a greater variety of supplies were taken from La Vida Aureo. Martina developed a routine of taking a few supplies from a number of residents’ rooms. She chose those residents who were least aware of their surroundings or who had supplies on hand only for emergencies. She was careful to not take too much from a single resident or not too often. She stopped taking things directly from the main Store Room because she had seen Dudley in there and knew he would be suspicious of her. Her fear of discovery grew.
One afternoon, Dudley watched Martina carry an armload of diapers from the Store Room. He thought that somewhat unusual, but decided to just observe what she did next. Martina went into a series of residents’ rooms and left a few in each room. By the time she reached the end of the hallway, she had delivered all the diapers she had originally taken from the Store Room. Dudley chided himself for being suspicious and jumping to conclusions about her actions.
Later in that week, Dudley was working in the bathroom of one of the apartments repairing a leaking toilet. Martina entered the apartment but did not see him because the bathroom door was partially closed. As he rose to leave, he noticed that Martina had brought the laundry cart into the apartment. He thought that unusual because he had watched her carry supplies into each apartment in her arms and then carry any soiled sheets out into the hall. As he continued to watch from behind the partially closed door, Martina took a handful of clean diapers and a rubber bedsheet and placed them in a large black plastic bag and put it deep in the laundry cart.
Toward the end of the day, Dudley related this observation to Isabella who was deeply upset. “Martina has been with us for some time and her supervisor always speaks highly of her and her commitment to the residents. I am reluctant to act in haste, particularly with an employee that has such an excellent record. Would you please continue to observe her movements as well as the other housekeepers in that section? Let’s just see what happens and whether there are any others involved.”
“There are always minor repairs to be done and I can spend more time during the day working throughout that section.”
Dudley was in the basement, retrieving plumbing supplies from the maintenance room when he noticed the Los Compadres van arrive at the loading dock. As he was turning off the light, he saw Martina exit the service elevator pushing a laundry cart. Dudley stepped back into the shadow of the room to see what happened next. A young man jumped out of the van and Martina rushed up to hug him. The two of them worked quickly to remove a large black plastic bag from the laundry cart and place it in an empty cart near the front of the van. They hugged again and Martina quickly disappeared into the service elevator. Moving at a much slower pace, the young man wheeled the remaining full laundry carts into the van, closed the loading bay door and presumably drove away.
Dudley remained in the basement for quite a while, reviewing everything he had witnessed. It appeared to him that the laundry cart was the method being used to remove supplies from La Vida Aureo. He reasoned that Martina was collecting supplies during her rounds, concealing them in a laundry cart and delivering them to the loading dock. He didn’t know who her accomplice was and how Los Compadres Laundry Service was involved, but he knew he had to act. He knew that the most direct approach was to be at the loading dock and confront Martina and her accomplice. But, he remained troubled as to why a trusted employee would be involved in such a flagrant activity.
After a sleepless night, he went to see Isabella and told her all that he had seen. “I believe I know why we seem to be using so many consumable supplies in certain sections of the building, but I am struggling with understand the rationale of Martina’s actions. From everything we know about her, this is totally out of character. I cannot imagine that she would jeopardize her job here much less risk being arrested. With your approval, Isabella, I recommend that you and I together intercept the next exchange and try to understand what is happening.”
“I agree, Doc. This makes no sense to me and I don’t want to ruin someone’s life by having them go to jail. Regardless, her actions are wrong and must stop. I am responsible for this entire facility and that is obviously more important than whatever Martina’s motivation is.
Dudley and Isabella were waiting in the darkened maintenance supply room near the loading dock the next time Martina wheeled the cart in. They watched as the Los Compadres van arrived and Martina and her accomplice began to transfer the cart’s contents to the van. Dudley stepped out of the room and took the cart from Martina and pushed it away from the open door. He emptied the cart onto the floor and found several large plastic bags stuffed with diapers and other supplies.
Isabella was irate but Dudley restrained her from going totally ballistic. She marched Martina and Martin to her office with Dudley following behind. They hung their heads and Martina began to cry. The entire desperate story came out between sobs. “We are sorry. Please. We cannot afford to lose our jobs and cannot afford to care for our parents.” With Isabella’s prodding, Martina reluctantly described how the situation had begun and how it had escalated. “Martin and I know what we were doing was wrong, said Martina through her tears. We never expected things to get so far out of hand. Many of the older people in our neighborhood are suffering and there is nothing available to help.”
Dudley saw that Isabella was moved by Martina’s plight, but knew that her first priority was La Vida Aureo. She was obviously struggling with what to do with this complex situation. Having lived in Albuquerque all of her life, she was painfully aware of the large economic disparities that existed across the City. It was apparent to Dudley that she wanted to help, but there wasn’t an obvious way out. Just as Isabella was about to speak, Dudley said, “Wait. There may be another approach, but we’ll need help from several people to make it work.”
“I assume, he continued, that the companies that manufacture these supplies have some off-spec or seconds-type products that they just throw away because they do not want to include them with their perfect products. In many cases, these seconds are perfectly usable, there is just some minor defect, like the adhesive strip on a diaper is slightly crooked. Is there some way we could intercept these materials and direct them to the people Martina has been trying to help?”
“That’s not a bad idea, Doc”, added Isabella. She had calmed down a bit and was eager to find a reasonable solution to the situation. “My husband still works at Ethicon and I’ll ask him if this approach is even possible; he’ll know the right person to ask. We could have the products shipped here and Martina and Martin could still take them to the church.”
“No, no, no!” Martina sat up in the chair and stopped crying. “I know what I did was wrong and I do not want to be part of this. I don’t want people to think that I am still stealing from La Vida Aureo. This place and the people here are too important to me. Can’t we find another way?”
“And, we must find an appropriate way to deal with Father Lopez’ actions, said Isabella, but that is certainly not my department. I will contact Father Michael at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow and ask him how to proceed with this delicate matter. In the meantime, Martina, I need to decide what to do about your stealing. You have been an excellent employee and I would hate to lose you, but I simply cannot ignore what you’ve done.”
“I understand, Señora Duncan. I beg your forgiveness and I will do anything to make up for my sins against you and La Vida Aureo. Just please do not send me away.”
“Let me think about it.”
The next day Isabella met Father Michael for coffee and poured out her heart about the recent episode with Martina and her conflict about what to do next. “At the very least, I ask you to intercede with the Bishop about Father Lopez and his behavior with Martina.”
Father Michael acknowledged that Lopez’ actions were totally inappropriate. “He’s another one of the old school priests that has been at his church far too long. Most of Our Lady of the Valley’s parishioners are elderly and trying to live on a meager pension or with support from their family. They are not prepared for the consequences of aging and Father Lopez does not seem to understand or be of much help. I will speak to the Bishop immediately. If you agree, I will also request that the Bishop ask other churches in more affluent neighborhoods of the Diocese to donate supplies and money to Our Lady of the Valley.”
“Oh, Michael, that is more than I could have asked for.”
“I would encourage you, Isabella, to find it in your heart to forgive Martina. She was placed in an extremely difficult situation by people she loved and trusted.”
Isabella returned to La Vida Aureo with a renewed spirit and the confidence that there was a way forward. Working with Dudley, Father Michael and her husband, they developed a plan to help those in greatest need at Our Lady of the Valley. The Bishop quietly began a search for a new priest while redirecting Father Lopez to learning more about the problems facing the elderly at the Senior Center. Dudley agreed to coordinate the delivery of off-spec and seconds-type supplies directly to the church. Martina did not lose her job and approached her regular duties with an increased sense of purpose and commitment.
Late one afternoon, Isabella turned to Matthew Dudley and said, “Once again, you have been a tremendous help in dealing with another rather complicated and involved situation in a very calm and professional manner. And, we ultimately did some good. It’s nice to have a positive experience around here for a change.”