Today Show Report: Stricter Background Checks Needed for Senior Caregivers

Nick Fishman

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There have been no shortage of stories that chronicle the need to conduct employment background checks on those caring for children such as teachers, day care, camp counselors, bus drivers, etc. or for those with disabilities that can’t take care of themselves. There is however, another vulnerable population that  is often looked- Senior Citizens.

We all have aging parents and grandparents.  And some of us are getting older a lot quicker than we’d like. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that we can rest easier knowing that we’ll be taken care of by experienced, qualified and honest people. We’ve all heard stories about seniors being abused, neglected or bilked out of their savings, so why isn’t there a mandate that those that care for them be properly screened before they can be hired?

NBC Today Show investigative reporter Jeff Rossen wondered this very same question after he learned about a woman in Mississippi who worked at an assisted living home and stole over $100,000 from 83 residents’ trust funds and spent it on various shopping sprees.

“In (a) three-month period there were 12 or 15 cash withdrawals,” Phyllis Foster said of her mother-in-law’s account. “And we knew that there was something drastically wrong.”

In August, Martin pleaded guilty to 29 counts of exploitation of a vulnerable person and one count of conspiracy. She is accused of stealing more than $100,000 from 83 residents’ trust funds and going on shopping sprees at stores like J.C. Penney, Gap, Walmart and American Eagle. In one instance, Martin bought a pair of designer jeans and expensed them to an elderly resident with no legs.

USA TODAY investigation into thefts from nursing home trust funds found that more than 100 cases like Martin’s have been prosecuted since 2010.

“What we found was that it is just enormously easy for people to get away with this, even in really good nursing homes,” USA TODAY investigative reporter Peter Eisler told TODAY.

“In most states there are no audit requirements. The people who do the nursing home inspections really aren’t looking close at the books for these trust funds.”

Unfortunately, criminal activity like this has been going on for years and as our population continues to age, it will only become more prevalent. One way to curb this epidemic is to closely monitor the owners and employers of assisted care facilities, nursing homes, hospice care and in-home care businesses. But there’s something else that can be done to mitigate the possibility of abuse, neglect or theft- mandate that thorough employment background checks are conducted before these people are hired.

Comprehensive criminal background checks will indicate if there is something in someone’s past that might disqualify them from working in this industry. And because it’s so easy for perpetrators of these crimes to move on to the next facility after they’ve been caught, employers should be mandated to share this information with others in their industry when asked. Further, it is vital that everyone from caregivers to administrators to janitors are screened. Just as important as conducting the background check is who conducts the checks. In situations like these, you often hear about well-intention-ed politicians suggest the government is most qualified to conduct these background checks. Unfortunately, the FBI and state agencies don’t have the same effective tools to perform this type of work as private background screening companies.

In the meantime, those in the senior healthcare industry should evaluate their current background screening practices to ensure they are getting the most current, accurate and compliant information needed to make an informed hiring decision.









Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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