Beware the Agency Caregiver : Food for Thought
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Beware the Agency Caregiver

by Paul Mawn on 07/25/19

If you have an aging loved one who has agency-assigned companions or home health aides, you need to be mindful and watchful of these caregivers.  Many of them are looking for an opportunity to financially exploit your loved one.

As we age, we become weaker more dependent on others and generally more trusting.  We become less able to protect and defend ourselves.  Caregivers know this, and many of them, given the right opportunity, use their position to financially exploit the elderly person in their care. 

These sharks in scrubs work their craft in a predictable pattern.  At the onset, they try to establish a close family-like bond between themselves and their victim.  They will shower the victim with love and affection, bake them cookies, give them small gifts and cards, and perform special tasks that go way beyond the call of duty.  As time goes by, they will encourage their victim to become progressively more dependent upon them, discouraging the victim from doing too many activities on their own, asserting more control over the running of the household.  Likewise, they will try to isolate their victim from others, reinforcing the victim’s dependence on the caregiver and shielding their activities from their prying eyes of family and friends. 

Having established trust, dependence and isolation, the rogue caregiver starts to cash in.  They may start by encouraging and/or accepting disproportionate gifts from their elderly victim for Christmas, birthdays and other occasions.  At some point, they usually start bringing their personal financial problems to the victim’s attention—they can't pay the rent, can't pay the electric bill, can't make the car payment, can’t pay the special tutor for their special needs kid, can’t afford the co-pays on prescription drugs for their elderly mother, etc., etc.  They will complain that the agency underpays them, regardless of what they actually get paid.  Whether they come right out and say it, or whether they imply it, the threat to your loved one will be made clear—unless your loved one is willing to supplement their income, they will have to move on, and your loved one will be taken care of by a “stranger.” 

Vulnerable elders will often give in to this threat.  The victim may pay the caregiver a supplemental salary and/or pay the caregiver’s personal bills directly and/or “lend” money to the caregiver.  Some victims even allow the caregiver to drive them to the bank, or to the caregiver’s favorite estate planning attorney.  This is scary stuff. 

 The good news is that there are lots of things that family and friends can do to minimize the risks to a vulnerable elderly person. 

 The most important take-away from this posting is that you should never let your loved one become or feel isolated.  The rogue caregiver will look for lonely, isolated, and needy targets.  Their game plan depends on stealth and darkness.  When lots of relatives are dropping by, checking up on the elder, encouraging their loved one to stay active and asking the loved one and the caregiver lots of questions, it throws a monkey wrench in the plans of any potential con artist.  Remember, cockroaches are most active in the dead of night; once you turn on a bright light, they scatter under the appliances.  It is the same with scheming, thieving caregivers. 

 You and your family must choose your agency carefully, and be sure you are comfortable with the caregivers assigned before they start work.  There are many reputable agencies that are very careful about whom they hire, and these are the agencies that you need to do business with.  Do not base your decision solely on price, as many of the cut-rate agencies have lower hiring standards and practices.  Interview at least three agencies, asking lots of questions about how these agencies qualify and screen potential caregivers during the hiring process.  Unfortunately, even at the best agencies, some bad actors are going to slip through the cracks.  For this reason, you may want to conduct your own interview with each prospective caregiver before they enter your loved one’s home.  If you get a bad feeling about any individual, trust your gut and ask the agency to assign someone else. 

 After the caregiver is hired, watch the caregiver like a hawk.  Check in frequently and unexpectedly at unpredictable times.  Have other family members do the same.  When you visit, put on your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat and ask your loved one and the caregiver some questions about what they talk about during the day.  If your loved one grants you a power of attorney, keep a very close eye on all bank account transactions and credit card statements. 

If you suspect that a current caregiver is taking advantage of your loved one, report it to their agency, and get a new caregiver assigned.  If you believe the elder has been seriously exploited, consider notifying the Connecticut Department of Social Services Elder Abuse Unit and/or the local police department in the victim’s town.  If things have progressed to this point, you should also consider consulting a qualified elder law attorney, preferably one with litigation experience and a background in criminal law. 

Following the above recommendations may take a bit more time in the short run.  Yet, in the long run, these precautions could help your loved one avoid a financial crisis, and you and your family will sleep better knowing that your loved one is protected.  As Ben Franklin wisely stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

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