Fearless Aging: Safety tips for hiring a caregiver

Caregiver hired by one area family stole $17,000 over a 2-month period using a smartphone app, Elderwerks’ president says

Finding a caregiver is a difficult and emotional task. Operating under stressful conditions causes many people to hire individuals or acquaintances to help care for their loved one at home rather than bringing in a qualified agency.

We understand that family budget is a major factor, yet cost should not be the only consideration when hiring someone to work with or live with Mom or Dad.

Safety and security should be paramount in the decision-making process, particularly if your loved one has a critical health condition or disability.

Normally, professional caregivers are fabulous additions to an overall care plan that permits a person to remain in their home. Sadly, not every caregiver has the best intentions.

We recently had a client who hired a caregiver to help her mom in the family home. This caregiver turned out to be an unscrupulous person. On the surface, the caregiver seemed capable, helping Mom with activities such as bathing, dressing, meals, etc.

What the family did not know was that the caregiver used her smartphone to log into an app that transfers money from one person to another. She copied the mom’s checking account information and stole $17,000 over a two-month period.

The daughter saw the bank statement and immediately contacted the bank, the police department and Elderwerks.

Unfortunately, the app the caregiver used does not cooperate with law enforcement, so there was no paper trail to track the activity. Essentially, it is an app built for scammers, not a safe, credible company such as Zelle or Venmo.

The takeaway from this story is be sure to keep all bank account information in a safe place, such as a locked safe.

Other ways to keep your caregiver and loved one safe:

  1. Add a surveillance camera to the main living space. Inform all people entering the home that there are cameras. Easy-to-install Bluetooth Wi-Fi cameras can be live in minutes without wiring. A handy app lets you observe and even speak over the camera if necessary.
  2. Keep all valuables – such as jewelry, cash, stocks and bonds – locked in a safety deposit box, home safe or at your children’s homes.
  3. Remove all alcohol.
  4. Hire your caregiver through a professional agency that performs background checks, offers training and fires and prosecutes for illegal activities.
  5. Don’t only hire an individual because they are affordable. If you do, make sure to run a background check. Also, you are now their employer, so you must cover their taxes and insurance, and you are liable for them while working in the home.
  6. Discuss expectations and provide a written job description so everyone is clear about the caregiving responsibilities.
  7. If your loved one has special needs or cognitive impairment, make sure the agency can accommodate them and has training for these types of impairments.
  8. A contract should be signed by both parties.
  9. A caregiver should never be allowed to bring friends to visit or help them in the home setting.
  10. If your caregiver will be replaced by another person, make sure that there is some overlap, providing time for the new caregiver to be trained and become acquainted with their new client.
  11. Make sure you ask for a COVID-19-vaccinated caregiver. Agencies should be requiring all caregivers to be vaccinated, but not all do. Do not hesitate to ask to see the caregiver’s COVID-19 vaccination card.

If you or your loved one needs help in the home – or is living at home yet not feeling safe, isn’t thriving or can no longer navigate the home – it might be a good time to start touring senior communities to find one that offers appropriate support.

The team at Elderwerks interacts with senior service providers and senior communities throughout the state and is happy to provide you with qualified referrals.

• Jennifer Prell is president of Elderwerks Educational Services, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering complimentary information, referrals and guidance to older adults, seniors and their families for senior living, care, support and benefits. Visit elderwerks.org or call 855-462-0100 for personal assistance. Email questions to help@elderwerks.org.