The service of home care requires a tremendous amount of trust. It begins with the client trusting your agency will perform care services as represented at the assessment when they sign contract. Trust is extended from owners, that each employee employed on the team (following a completed background check) is as upstanding, reliable and honest as the clean report suggests and will follow through on the commitments they make in an ethical manner. Trust flows from the caregiver that owners and management will follow through on commitments made.
When the trust is violated, it affects more than one or two people: the client, their family, owners, management and care staff. For most private duty agencies doing hiring properly (i/e: checking backgrounds and digging deep into an applicant’s history) 95-99% of you’re caregivers are honest, ethical and upstanding individuals. It’s the 1% that we’ll discuss today, the white elephant that sits in many home care offices: Employee Theft from Clients.
If your agency has been in business for more than a year or two, you’ve undoubtedly experienced a client who’s alleged theft by a caregiver. When the issue comes up for the first time it’s often following an astonished phone call from a client or family member making the accusation. If that’s when you’ve begun to think about it – you’re too late. The mission in this area, should you choose to accept it, is wrap your head around the probability before it happens – in hopes to prevent it. And what to do in the event that it does.
It takes just one incident publicized, and your agency’s reputation is dragged through dirt with no guarantee your agency’s reputation is restore-able. Here’s just a small dose of how the news can and will feed on the story:
The fact remains that you can do thorough background checks and still, an unscrupulous employee that’s determined to steal is going to do just that.
What An Agency Should Be Doing In Advance?
- Define Your Policy On Theft:
- Where does your home care agency stand on the issue of theft from clients (or anyone for that matter)? Do you have a strong policy against it and communicate it to your staff regularly?
- Put the policy in writing that your agency reports elder financial abuse and work closely with authorities to prosecute any kind of theft in the workplace.
- Have every staff member sign a copy of the policy, indicating they understand, accept and promise to abide by it.
- Establish procedures for minimizing care providers handling of cash or financial transactions, if at all. If they must have a hand in it, establish a family member that monitor accounts regularly.
- Make sure your bonding policy is up to date.
- Understand how much the coverage is for. Increase to no less than $25,000 per occurrence. More if you’re serving clients with great wealth.
- Obtain all the details of how the policy can be used and what to do in event of a loss.
- Perform Thorough Background Checks That Are Well Documented!
The reality of background checks are that if nothing is found:
- You have a candidate who is ethical and would never consider theft. (Yeaa!)
- You found someone who hasn’t been caught yet.
- You hired someone who never would consider theft, but in a tough economy (or any tough circumstanced situation) something changes and ethics they once had, felt they had no other choice.
With all this effort, you still may experience the unfortunate phone call. When you get that call alleging theft in a client’s home, questions amass around the reality that almost seems unbelievable: How could this happen? What did I overlook? How long has this been happening? Did the Caregiver really do something like this? She/He seemed so honest!
What To Do When Theft Has Been Alleged?
- Assure the client that you will work to get to the bottom of it.
Your client needs to know that you take this seriously. It starts by listening, and reassuring them you’ll do all you can to resolve the issue.
- Don’t jump to conclusions.
Many a case has been brought up of theft only to find that the asset thought to be missing has been misplaced. Clients with memory loss (Alzheimer’s, Dementia, etc) can become confused and even paranoid where nothing has happened. Also, remember that crafty thieves also prey on the aura of uncertainty especially with memory loss patients.
- Don’t accuse a caregiver simply because a client says it’s occurred. It can create a mess and the client might not be right. Ask questions, and see #4. If it’s family making the accusation, you must ask questions. Family dynamics come into play and (unfortunately) sometimes greed is looking for a fast buck, having nothing to do with caregivers actions.
- Contact the authorities and work closely with detectives. Get in front of it and take action. Doing so goes a long way towards maintaining credibility and showing clients you are serious about any accusations.
Accusations of theft by clients is never a pleasant situation. If you’ve done your homework, thought through the policies in advance and taken action to put in place what we’ve talked about, you should rest well knowing that if it does happen your agency is prepared to handle the situation with diligence, seriousness and care.
Have you experienced theft by a caregiver? What did you do? I’d love to hear from you and invite your remarks.
To Your Success!