New research shows that elder abuse in West Palm Beach and across the country may be perpetuated by the fact that very few home health aides are properly vetted before they’re hired – or trained.
It’s a fact that comes at no surprise to us, but it’s important for those considering a home health care option to become informed about the reality of what – and to whom – they are opening their doors.
The analysis, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, indicates that there is no uniform policy for background checks, drug testing and training for those individuals we trust to care for the most vulnerable among us.
In a number of cases, it appears the employee gets virtually zero supervision from his or her employing agency once they’ve been hired and placed.
Most agencies self-reported that they hire most of their aides through advertising recruitment efforts – including Internet sites such as Craigslist. What’s more, a number of agencies reportedly falsified information regarding how they screened their employees, as well as the qualifying education of those workers.
As a consumer, one of the first things you need to understand is that a home health care aid is not a nurse. They do not have a degree in nursing and they don’t even necessarily have to have any medical training whatsoever to hold the title. In most cases, they are actually forbidden by law from distributing medication precisely because they don’t have a medical degree.
Generally, these are lower-paid individuals whose job duties formally consist of making sure the patient is eating, scheduling doctor’s appointments, reminding the person to take their medication (but again, not distributing it), and sometimes housekeeping.
This is an arrangement that can work well for someone who is, for the most part, able to maintain their independence, but needs a little extra help. The problem is that because of a lack of quality controls, it opens up the elderly or disabled person to potential abuse and neglect – particularly if he or she is in a state where they are entirely dependent on the aide to fulfill basic needs.
The study, published July 13 in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, focused on 180 home health care agencies from seven states throughout the country – including Florida – chosen for their higher elderly populations.
Researchers discovered that little more than 55 percent of agencies said they performed federal background checks. Only a third said they tested for drugs. Training ranged from a weeks-worth to nothing at all.
Supervision from the employing agency? In a number of cases, there was none at all. This is particularly troubling when you consider that two-thirds of these aides were allowed to assist the patient with financial transactions, such as bill-paying.
As if all this wasn’t enough to raise the warning flags, a number of agencies were apparently dishonest with regard to their screening process. At least two agencies referenced performing assessment tests that don’t even exist.
The typical profile for an aide was a recent female immigrant who earned about $7.25 hourly. Those hired as live-in help were paid even less: about $5.45 an hour.
The idea here is not to unduly scare you, but to open your eyes. You need to be wary of who you trust to care for your elderly relatives and be vigilant with regard to any potential abuses.
Call the Law Offices of Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez at 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.