Homecare Worker as Predator – Part 2 of 2

Last month I shared the story of how my mother’s homecare worker gained access to her blank checks then committed forgery. The sense of violation felt can only be appreciated if you are the victim. You don’t want to get there, and I’m going to help you minimize this from ever occurring should you need homecare assistance. This installment shares my journey with the local police department, and the frightening facts learned about how homecare workers are selected, especially given the serious shortage of direct care workers.

I immediately call the local police department upon learning of the larceny of my mother’s checks. A detective called me within the week. Good, I thought, they’re getting right on it. What he had to say left me reeling and bewildered, and goes to show the importance of never giving up when you think something isn’t right.

The Detective (“Det. S.”) informed me that he would not send the case to the prosecutor. “A blank check has no value,” he says. “What?! What d’ya think the worker took the check for, because it has no value?!” He persisted, basing this on a case he sent to the prosecutor’s office two years ago. I was discombobulated, entirely. Being an attorney, albeit civil and not criminal, I looked up the statute of larceny. There was nothing in there about “value” being an essential element of the crime. I called him back up. He continued with more non-sense. “Well, even if the check had value, there were three homecare workers who had access to your mom’s bedroom.” “Yeah,” I said, and only one of them was fired from the homecare agency after the agency discovered she had done the exact same thing to another elder, even to the point of writing the check out to the same person.” Det. S. could not be dissuaded.

I asked him if he’d take fingerprints of the inside of the checkbox. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “all three workers still had access to the bedroom.” “Well, I don’t understand. No one had consent to be inside the checkbox.” We went round and round. I offered to fax him the statute. “No need to…I read the same (law) books you do.” “OK, give me the name of the City Attorney.”

I next attempted to speak with the City Attorney, but the receptionist would not allow me contact. “Victims can’t talk to the attorney,” she said. “What?! I’m an attorney, and I’m calling about what I believe to be your detective’s mistaken interpretation of the law.” So sorry, she persisted.

Now I don’t know about you, but after getting nonsense from the detective, and no access to the attorney, I was pretty pis…..d Having no access to anyone by now, I wrote both the Mayor and the Chief of Police. The next week I received a phone call from a lieutenant and a sergeant. Both assured me that the city would pursue this case, the sergeant having told me that everything Det. S. told me was wrong. I knew it, but the detective would not budge. I told the sergeant that I was disgusted that I had to resort to fighting the police department to do their job. He agreed.

Here’s moral number three of the story: don’t believe everything you’re told by the police department. If it doesn’t sound right, look up the statute and/or appeal your dis-satisfaction to higher-ups.

Next, I had a face-to-face meeting with the head of the homecare agency. I learned another, rather mind-boggling piece of information. Criminal background checks do not assure a person with a “clean” record. Why? You have to know the predicament of the direct care worker industry to understand.

There’s a shortage of over 1,500 direct care workers in Michigan. Why? The poor pay and benefits are pathetic. The working conditions are difficult—cleaning up after human beings that can no longer help themselves. Morale is chronically low among aides. There’s a revolving door of such employees (turnover is 66%). Homecare agencies (and nursing homes) are forced to pick from a labor pool that doesn’t always have the shiniest apples in the bunch. Further, due to fear of being sued for defamation, homecare agencies cannot even tell a prospective homecare agency employer that this ex-worker would not be re-hired. Once a worker is suspected, the worker simply picks up and goes to the next agency who is desperate for aides to fill the slots to maintain it’s existing schedule of clients.

Here’s moral number four: don’t assume that a worker who passes a criminal background check is “clean.” Ask for references yourself, and call them. References should not be their friends. They should be former clients. (Unfortunately, you can’t call ex-employers because they won’t say anything bad).

Next, I called the director of Michigan’s association for homecare agencies. It seemed to me that he basically threw up his hands, confessing the nature of the problem, and that nothing could be done beyond criminal background checks. I insisted that that’s not enough. We, as providers in the aging network, must develop a radar screen that’s more sensitive then criminal background check, to detect the bad apples before they have a criminal history. Admittedly, this is difficult, due to privacy rights of the prospective employee. But there are some measures that can be taken while respecting privacy rights. Here’s a few I’ve come up with in my many, many conversations with others as to this problem:


  1. Ask the prospective employee for a release to obtain his/her employment record from the prior employer. This way, the applicant knows these records are being accessed. If the applicant refuses, this is a red flag.
  2. Administer an employee screening test for honesty. The director of the homecare agency I spoke with seemed to think this would be difficult, because her profit margins are so slim as it is. How could she afford to implement such a measure? I’m told by a Industrial/Organization Psychologist—the expert knowledgeable about such tests, that honesty screens already exist, and are very difficult to manipulate by a dishonest person.
  3. Advocate for a legislative exception to the “don’t tell” handcuff ex-employers have to wear when asked for a reference by a prospective employer, when it comes to homecare agencies. This would be a hard sell. But legislators have to know of this predicament—the chronic shortage of direct care workers, their poor wages, and the limits this puts on a quality labor pool. Poor career incentives and working conditions forces agencies to select from more blemished apples than they would like to admit. Homecare agencies must be free to at least say whether they’d re-hire a worker, when such a worker has direct access to the assets and physicality of totally vulnerable older adults.


If you have other ideas, I’d like to hear them. Meanwhile, summarized below are the morals to this story that I can develop up to this point:

  1. Hide all valuable tangible personal property, and paper that has value,
  2. Don’t allow a homecare worker any access to dresser drawers
  3. Don’t believe everything you’re told by the police department. If it doesn’t sound right, look up the statute and/or appeal your dis-satisfaction to higher-ups.
  4. Don’t assume that a worker who passes a criminal background check is “clean.” Ask for references yourself, and call them. References should not be friends. They should be former clients.
  5. Advocate for a legislative exception to the “don’t tell” privacy right as it relates to the homecare industry.

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