Families grapple with elder theft
Published: Monday, August 6, 2012 at 8:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 9:29 a.m.
The recent arrest of a caregiver charged with stealing thousands from an elderly Petaluma man with dementia has highlighted a growing concern for residents looking to provide care for their aging parents.
FINDING SENIOR HOME CARE
The Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging recommends the following resources:
n The Senior Resource Guide includes a list of agencies that have met a certain number of criteria: http://www.socoaaa.org/senior_resource.htm
n “Hiring an In-Home Caregiver,” a document that gives detailed, step-by-step information on how to choose the right caregiver: http://www.socoaaa.org/pdf/hiring_an_in_home_caregiver.pdf.
On July 25, Petaluma police arrested a 22-year-old Santa Rosa woman on suspicion of stealing about $6,000 from a 89-year-old man she was charged with caring for by making numerous $200 to $300 withdrawals from the man's bank account.
Surveillance video from the victim's bank showed the suspect, Kirra Beck, making 24 withdrawals from the victim's account at an ATM.
The man's daughter raised suspicions to the home care agency, At Home Nursing, and Beck was then terminated for unspecified reasons. Even after that, Beck visited the man at least once to learn about his medical appointments, Police said.
Unfortunately, said Kira Reginato, an elder care provider in Petaluma and host of the radio show “Living Ideas for Elders,” such theft happens “all the time.” Countywide, about 600 cases of elder theft are reported a year, which experts agree is a small fraction of what actually takes place and is not reported.
The number of Sonoma County seniors age 85 and older is projected to triple between 2010 and 2050, according to a report by the Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging. That is increasing the demand for at home caregivers who can provide medical or personal care to elderly, disabled, or sick individuals in their own homes.
“With an in-home caregiver, the line between family and help blurs,” said Jane Eckels, who sits on the advisory board of the Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging. “They're doing very intimate things, and all of a sudden the person becomes a friend.”
Officials at Sonoma County's Adult and Aging Services said that the best way to protect against theft or other forms of elder abuse is to work through a licensed home care agency that thoroughly vets its employees, assumes all the liability and will reimburse the family should a theft occur.
Home care agencies tend to be more expensive by the hour than another common option — referral agencies. Referral agencies connect workers with families, and then the families are responsible for hiring an employee. The family then assumes responsibility for any employee theft.
The company Beck worked for was a licensed home care agency, and owner Diane Brabetz explained she had submitted Beck to a thorough background check, as she does with all potential hires, and that the check came back showing no problems. Her business has also been cooperating with the family and police, Brabetz said.
“The person who (stole the money) could have gone to any agency,” Reginato pointed out, adding that the benefit of a licensed, insured agency is that it will shoulder the cost of any theft.
Despite that assurance, she recommended that families ask a prospective agency about its criteria for hiring.
At Petaluma's Sequoia Senior Solutions, for instance, president and CEO Gabriella Ambrosi asks potential hires to submit 14 references in addition to undergoing a background check.
Despite the large applicant pool, she said, it's hard to find people who meet all the criteria and also have the personality and passion for the job. Of roughly 100 people who apply every month, Ambrosi said she hires about 10.
Of elder theft, Ambrosi said, “This is a very serious problem that people tend to underestimate.”
Part of the problem is that employees have intimate access to an individual's home and personal items, including, sometimes, financial information. The County's Area Agency on Aging recommends that family members keep all credit cards and financial documents in a safe or other secure place when care providers are in the home.
They also recommend that families consider providing a gift card or set amount of cash to the worker and then require receipts accounting for how the money was spent.
Experts encourage anyone who suspects that elder abuse is occurring to call Adult Protective Services at 565-5940.
(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@argus courier.com)
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