Capital Clicks

Social worker fired for leaving injured woman on the floor of her home

By: - November 3, 2021 12:44 pm

An Ankeny social worker fired for leaving a client injured and alone on the floor of her home is not entitled to jobless benefits, a judge has ruled. (Photo by Danie Franco, via Unsplash)

An Ankeny social worker fired for leaving a client injured and alone on the floor of her home is not entitled to jobless benefits, a judge has ruled.

According to state records, social worker Michael Van Gorder, 48, worked for the nonprofit social-service organization Immanuel from January 2021 through the first half of June 2021, when he was fired.

On June 9, Van Gorder performed an in-home assessment of a client, arriving at the woman’s home at 8:30 a.m. Van Gorder found the woman lying on the floor, near her bed, wearing only an incontinence brief. The client was soiled with excrement and was complaining of a broken ankle.

Van Gorder allegedly conducted his social-worker assessment but did not provide the woman with any clothing or clean the excrement from her body. Nor did he check her ankle to see if it appeared broken, or call 911, or notify his employer of the situation.

According to Administrative Law Judge Darrin Hamilton, who later reviewed the case to determine whether Van Gorder had committed workplace misconduct, Van Gorder “did his assessment and when the client got unhappy with him and told him to leave, he left her as he found her.”

Forty minutes after Van Gorder left, a nurse from Immanuel stopped by the client’s home and found the woman. Van Gorder was fired the next day.

At the subsequent hearing held to determine whether Van Gorder was eligible for unemployment benefits, he did not deny the allegations against him but maintained that he had done nothing wrong. According to Hamilton’s findings, Van Gorder claimed it was not his job to clean up clients, assess their injuries or immediately report any injuries.

At the hearing, Hamilton later reported, Van Gorder “kept referring to the fact that the client was a stage-three alcoholic, with death the next stage, and (said) she is not long before death.” The judge reported that Van Gorder seemed to be suggesting the client’s condition “exempted her from being treated with basic dignity and respect.”

Hamilton denied Van Gorder’s request for unemployment benefits, finding he had committed workplace misconduct and demonstrated a “callous disregard” for his client’s welfare.

The Iowa Board of Social Work reports that Van Gorder’s license is currently in good standing with the state, with no public record of any disciplinary action.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.