What to Do if You Think a Caregiver Is Stealing

When a home health care agency assists in placing a caregiver in a private home, a relationship based on trust begins. There is an immediate trust in their knowledge and ability to provide the needed care in a loving way. Another equally important trust exists that concerns personal property such as money,  heirlooms and prescription medications. Be sure to ask about background checks and drug testing while going through the interviewing process.

If suspicion arises that someone is stealing, instead of an immediate confrontation, which could lead to an argument or even violence, there are some important steps to take to resolve the situation.

"Taking care of patients in the home is like a sacred trust. And if there is something suspicious, absolutely report it. Talk to the agency," says Judy Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association for Home Health Agencies (GAHHA), based in Marietta, GA.

Members of GAHHA are Medicare-certified agencies that are highly regulated by federal and state governments, but other private in-home care agencies that provide housekeeping, companionship, meals, and other services to seniors may not have state or federal contracts and therefore have less oversight. Either way, agencies should take these claim very seriously and investigate. If they do not, find a new one.

It is easy to find references of incidents, which strengthens the need to think ahead and try to be thorough during the hiring process. "Not a year has gone by where we haven't counseled members about an incident," says William A. Dombi, vice president for law with the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and director of the Center for Health Care Law, based in Washington, D.C.

Contacting the Appropriate Authorities

A good home health agency will have a process for filing a complaint and for investigating the situation, Dombi says. By alerting management, you can "ferret out the truth or get the goods on the individual," he says. "This is not a situation where everybody coming into the home is absolutely a saint."

It is important to ask how to submit a theft claim when selecting a home health service. Even if services are being provided, be sure to ask the managing office about their procedures. Knowing this information before suspicion arises will help greatly in the process.

Dombi recommends bypassing the supervisor, whose primary role is to manage employee schedules and duties. Instead, talk to an administrator or manager.

Many home health providers bond their workers to protect themselves and their clients in the case of theft.

"We have coverage for insurance in case of theft. We're never hoping for it … but at the same time, we also provide families with the comfort that there is insurance in place in case anything ever happens," said Peter Ross, CEO and co-founder of Senior Helpers, an in-home senior care service founded in 2002 whose services include Alzheimer's and dementia care.

If the agency is bonded, they will have to report the suspected theft to their insurance company, who does their own investigation, Ross adds.

Notifying the police early on, or at least advising the agency administrators of this intention is an important measure as well. If the person that was hired was an acquaintance or someone who advertised on Craigslist, there may be no other recourse except to go to the police with proof. 

Backing Up Suspicions

A hidden camera placed in the home will capture the theft, and the video offers proof of such activity. If a checkbook or credit card is stolen, notify the financial institution and they will most likely monitor the account for any unauthorized transactions or fraudulent activity. It is wise to notify agency administrators that this has been done.

"You have the ability to present the checks to the home care provider and demonstrate the likelihood they were stolen by someone who came in the home on and around date checks written," Dombi says.

Families Often Do Not Have Proof

Sometimes there is only a suspicion and the missing money, jewelry, pills or other items cannot be located. Keeping a tally of pills and taking inventory on a daily basis will reveal if any are missing. Ask your parent is they took any of the medication themselves or if they witnessed the caregiver putting money or other items in their pockets or purse. It is important to also listen to their answers with caution as it is a common symptom of people who have dementia or Alzheimer's to accuse someone of stealing.

Sometimes items are misplaced by the senior adult and found the day after accusations are made, Ross says. "Make sure the item is actually missing first," he says. "Try to be patient."

Even if no proof is available, an agency should listen to the circumstances and may even try to make amends. Ross says one family came to him saying $10 was missing, and he removed $10 from their next invoice.

What the Service Provider Should Do

When a suspicion of theft is brought to the attention of the proper authority, they should remove the caregiver from the home immediately, Ross says. When this happens, Dombi says the agency should provide a substitute caregiver, and if one is not immediately available, they can send in a supervisor to fill in during that time.

Expect them to initiate an investigation, involving interviews with the patient, family and suspected employee, Adams says.

"All of our members have a zero tolerance for stealing. However, just like in the justice system, we should presume innocence before making any rash decisions against the employee," she says.

Agencies give high regard to compliance with federal and state regulations and realize that, in the end, they are only as good as the health care services provided in the private home. These unfortunate circumstances do occur, and it is a best practice to inquire about the procedure in the very beginning. Knowing what to do will help in remaining calm and communicating clearly through the proper channels.

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